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Chapter 22: Demons?
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Friday, January 3, 8:30 P.M.
Dan had been rummaging in the Governor Winthrop desk for a fresh roll of Lifesavers. "That reminds me, Ronni. What was going on with that cat upstairs? I've seen cats act spooky and I've seen them do some pretty destructive things but I've never seen or heard anything like that before."
Ronni turned pale and rose from her chair to stare out the window at the frozen, snow-covered Susquehanna River. "You're right about the cat, Dan. What you saw and heard was not ordinary and you folks have a right to know the truth about that, too. There's no telling what's ahead for all of us and the more information we all have, the better off we'll be. Remember that movie, the Exorcist?"
The Marlows had read the book and seen the movie.
"Well, my cat was demon-possessed tonight when he was shot."
Dan looked surprised but Karen laughed harshly. "All right, Ronni! You've reached my breaking point now. My twins are gone, your husband and two children are missing. Mark tells us the entire population of his institution is wiped out. And maybe, just maybe I can accept this business of what you call a rapture with a God of judgment and Jesus Christ with his marriage feast or whatever. But no demon possession!. No way demon possession. That's nothing but the invention of primitive and superstitious minds in an incorrect diagnosis of a seizure disorder or insanity or both. But definitely not demon possession. The only thing evil in that cat was a can of spoiled cat food!"
Dan saw naked fear rather than anger in Ronni's face as she started to lose her color again. "Slow down a little, Karen. I was there and what I heard and smelled and felt was more than that cat could generate on his own." Dan sat down beside his wife and put his arm around her shoulders, nodding for Ronni to continue.
Ronni shivered visibly and hugged her forearms to her chest. "There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that demons do exist and that they do have the power to inhabit humans and even animals. The New Testament stories of the ministry of Jesus Christ contain several references to human possession and at least one instance of animal possession."
Dan relit his corncob with a kitchen match. "Just exactly what or who are demons, anyway? Where do they come from?"
"One theory is that demons are the fallen angels who, along with Satan, were thrown out of heaven as a result of an unsuccessful insurrection. These lesser angels then began to serve Satan as his demons. Part of the punishment God imposed on them was the loss of their bodies and now they are constantly looking for another body to inhabit."
"I've never heard of such a thing," Karen muttered.
"There's much more of it than anyone dreams of," Ronni replied soberly. "Before the rapture, most demons were very slick and sophisticated. They caused their victims to do horrible things but they always made it look like crime and perversion rather than demon possession. Demons key on two major themes: lust and death. For some reason, they crave human sexuality and cause their victims to get involved with rape, molestation, and adultery. And where there is senseless killing, like with a serial murderer, you can bet that demon possession is involved. Suicide goes with the package. Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer are classic examples of a demonic fascination with death and sex together."
"Do you believe things will get worse now as far as demons are concerned?" Dan asked.
"I'm not sure. Before the rapture, there were enough born-again Christians who were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to help keep the power of Satan and his demons at bay. What frightens me now is that with all the true believers removed from the world, Satan may decide to exercise more authority than he has been able to do so far, at least in the Christian countries of the world." Again Ronni shivered and Karen, still skeptical, rose and got her a sweater.
I still don't understand what happened upstairs with the cat," Dan said from
the depths of his favorite chair, over which a blue fog had settled.
"I guess that explanation is a lot easier to express than comprehend," said Ronni with a faint smile. "Satan and his demons have to be extremely frustrated by what happened in the rapture today. You see, all those people--children as well as adults-- who went to be with Jesus and are now lost to Satan forever. There's no way he can keep them from inheriting eternal life. While they were on earth, he could tempt them to sin and in that way break their relationship with God. But now, they're home free. So, my theory is that several demons entered the body of Midnight, my cat, and then indulged in a rage reaction because Kevin and Kellie could never fall into their clutches. That's why they caused Middy to ruin their clothes and contaminate their bed. Then, when you shot the cat, the demons left to look for another warm body in which to live."
"But what about that strange sound and the horrible smell, and even a blast of cold air which I felt upstairs?"
"Those things often seem to be associated with the presence of demons, at least the part observers are able to sense. And if the demons had inhabited a human body, you probably would have heard something closer to speech sounds instead of what you did hear."
Karen had left to make fresh coffee and she returned now with four steaming cups on a tray. She had been following the conversation from out in the kitchen and when she spoke, the note of scorn was missing. "Do you think the ... the demons are gone, permanently, now that the cat is dead?"
"I only know they're gone for now. I hope it's permanent but there is no way to destroy a demon. Eviction, or what you may know as exorcism, is the only possibility."
"I hope their eviction is permanent. The idea of demons right here is this house is just a little more than I care to think about," Karen said shakily as she resumed her seat. "Oh, one more thing, Ronni, and then I'll stop pestering you with so many questions. Why were you, Mark, and I able to observe so much at the actual moment of ... of departure while Dan saw absolutely nothing?"
"That aspect of the rapture was a revelation to me because the Bible doesn't actually discuss the fine points in such detail. The Bible does say, though, that the rapture was to occur in the twinkling of an eye. It also says the dead in Christ will rise first and then those that remain will be caught up to meet them in the air. Oh, and the Bible also predicted the part about the glorified bodies, too. As you know, all of those things did come true today at noon."
Mark leaned forward in his chair. "Yes, but where did all the extra time come from? The acrobatics display I saw went on for several minutes. But on the clock, it took no time at all."
"The concept of time exists for the convenience of man but it has absolutely no significance for God. God lives in the eternal present where there is no past or future. I guess you could say we were treated to an expanded segment of heavenly time so that we might experience the rapture in something other than a little blip, like Dan heard in his earphones."
Mark walked over to a side window and looked at a thermometer fastened to the outside window ledge. "Man, it's getting cold again. It's down close to zero already." On his way back to his chair, he flipped on the TV. No one realized it was after nine and the President was on camera.
"... happy to report that our statement this afternoon regarding hostile action from a foreign country or planet is still valid. In fact, since noon today, absolutely nothing unusual has occurred in this country or any other country. The disappearances are apparently without relationship to any force or power which is detectable with known information-gathering devices and techniques."
Dan snorted and turned to Ronni. "You know a whole lot more about this business than those clowns in Washington. Why haven't they been talking to people like you since noon instead of horsing around with their information-gathering nonsense?"
"For a very simple reason, Dan. There are very few people like me left on this planet. The ones who knew about the rapture and were ready to go are gone. Of course, there are plenty of high-priced theologians left, I'm sure, but my guess would be that they will be making themselves pretty scarce right now. Especially if they have any inkling of what really happened. And I guess most of the little people like me, who missed the rapture and know why, will be keeping a pretty low profile, too."
The President was winding down his speech and they all turned back to the screen. Dan, however, felt a small stir of professional excitement at what Ronni had just said.
" ... with pleasure that I commend my fellow Americans on your excellent spirit in accepting this tragedy which has befallen all of us. Shortly after noon today I imposed a national state of martial law. Now it seems unnecessary to continue that status and effective 9:30 P.M. Eastern Standard Time martial law will be lifted. We should be able to regain a measure of normalcy in national life."
"Sure, he can say that. All his children are grown and not one of them is missing," Karen said bitterly.
Mark had been lying flat on his back with a pillow propped under his head. Now he leaned over on an elbow and joined the conversation. "The government's position does seem to be rather superficial on this thing. But maybe that's just as well, in terms of keeping the panic down."
Ronni looked at Mark. "I don't think there'll be any panic. I think most people will just grieve quietly and accept the finality of the disappearances as one more thing in this complex age which is beyond the power of comprehension."
"I think you're both wrong," Dan said firmly. "I think the people who have lost children and other family members deserve to know exactly what happened today at noon. And they deserve to know who's at fault, too!"
The President's image on the screen was replaced by a panel of talking heads-- national network-news types, all looking at their respective cameras and discussing the speech. Karen grabbed the remote control and turned the set off.
"And who's fault do you think it is, Dan?"
"The fancy, big-city churches with their honey-tongued ministers and hoity-toity choirs, that's who!"
"Dan! How can you blame the churches when you never even went?"
"I rarely went because there wasn't anything there when I did go. I got more out of staying home and watching Dr. Schuler in his Crystal Cathedral."
Karen started to shush Dan but had second thoughts and decided it might be better to let him blow off some excess steam.
"There's a lot about this whole God-and-rapture thing that doesn't make a bit of sense to me," Dan said. "Look at Karen. A man never had a better wife and kids never had a better mom than Karen Marlow. And yet, she doesn't get to go along on the rapture with her own kids. Not only is she a great wife and mother, she's a fantastic educator, too. Karen, tell Ronni about that specimen you tangled with before Christmas. The old soak who hit that little girl with a board. People like that creep deserve to miss the rapture and stay here on the earth while Karen goes up with her kids. But no, that's not what happened at all. This all-wise and all-powerful God of yours lumps Nate Dike and my Karen all in the same lot. Now, if that's justice, then I spit in God's eye! So there!"
Karen looked embarrassed and Ronni's face was white and drawn as she attempted to respond rationally to Dan's anger. "I know you're upset. We're all upset by everything's that's happened today. And you do have a right to hear the answers to your questions, even though you may not like what you hear. What I'm about to say is based on my understanding of what the Bible teaches, as I learned it at my mother's knee, in Sunday school classes, and later in courses at Bible college.
In a few short sentences Ronni explained the plan of salvation and how Jesus Christ took on his own head the death penalty for the sins of all mankind. "Most people had it all wrong. They thought they were saved and in God's good graces until they did something bad enough to incur God's wrath. But it was just the opposite. Every son of Adam's race was damned and on his way to eternal punishment in hell until he did something right. And that something right was to accept the blood of Jesus Christ as his or her personal and supreme sacrifice for sin."
Throughout Ronni's comments Dan sat on the raised hearth and leaned forward, chin in hands, with his elbows propped on his knees. As she made each point, he shook his head and mumbled sourly.
Mark had been listening quietly for some time and finally he spoke from his spot on the floor. "You know, Ronni, it seems that you have a legitimate gripe yourself. Here you are, a minister's wife, trained in the teachings of the Bible, and you get left behind for something that happened years ago. That's over and done. In my mind, the number of times you must have attended church in your lifetime should cancel out a little thing like your cursing God for your son's death.
"I appreciate your vote of confidence, Mark," Ronni said dryly, "but you're wrong on two counts. In the first place, church membership and faithful attendance alone were not enough in God's eyes, without the born-again experience through the power of Jesus Christ. And second, the church hierarchy doesn't decide what is right and what is wrong. God alone makes that decision. And the Bible happens to take a very strong stand on forgiveness. If I couldn't forgive God for Sunny's death, he couldn't forgive me for cursing Him."
Dan was on his feet again, hands jammed in his trouser pockets. "Come off that born-again stuff! Reporters picked that term up in the middle 70s and made a political football out of it. Now I hear you saying that a person had to be born again to be included in the rapture. I suppose he had to be a Republican, too?"
Ronni's white face showed the turmoil within but her voice remained calm and controlled. "Neither Chuck Colson nor Jimmy Carter invented the concept of being born again. Jesus Christ did, two thousand years ago. That's documented in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. A man named Nicodemus had an interview with Jesus and asked what he had to do to have eternal life. This man was one of the church leaders of his day and had the equivalent of an earned doctorate in theology. But Jesus said to him, 'Nicodemus, you must be born again.' If a man like Nicodemus had to have the born-again experience to get to heaven, there's not much chance that one of us, including myself, has a legitimate gripe because we missed the rapture."
Karen's brows were knitted in concentration and her voice was quiet but tense. "I have a lot of friends who seem very involved in their churches but I guess those churches don't teach about being born again. Have all of them missed the rapture, even when it was the church's fault for not emphasizing it more?"
"As we find out more about who went and who didn't, I'm sure we'll discover that the only criterion that counted was the born-again experience. Not good works. Not church attendance. Not ignorance. Only one thing mattered in God's eyes. Have you personally accepted the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the cross for your sins. Nothing else."
No one spoke and Ronni continued, quietly and almost reflectively. "During my lifetime I have visited the White House at least six times. But I never met a President. I could have visited the White House every Sunday of my life and still never had the privilege of meeting a President personally. I guess that's the way it'll be now. We'll see a lot of folks who were in church every Sunday but who never met Jesus Christ personally. They had a historic relationship with Him. They even had a religious relationship in terms of liturgy and customs. But they never had a personal relationship with Jesus. It's sad. Just so terribly, terribly sad."
"I'll tell you what's sad," Dan said sourly. "Why didn't someone tell us about this rapture and the fact that this business of being born again was so all-fired important? Where were the ministers and church members who did know about this thing? Why weren't they going door to door and making sure that everyone was ready for this rapture, or at least knew about it? If I'd known yesterday what I know now, I wouldn't have let Jason Masterson out of my sight until he'd explained exactly what I had to do to be born again. How could these holy-roller evangelicals have been so complacent when they knew the truth and we didn't? How could--"
"Dan, please--" Ronni broke in. "Please forgive Jason and me for not making sure last night that you both understood the full significance of what was being said and sung about at the Gaither concert. You better believe if Jason knew then that the rapture would take place in a little over twelve hours, he would have had you by the lapels, preaching straight down your throat. But, we were all complacent, I guess. We verbalized the certainty and imminence of the rapture but never really acted like--" Her voice broke and she covered her face with her hands, sobbing quietly."
Dan watched Ronni silently as the young woman sought release in more tears. He was torn by unbearable anguish for his own circumstance and an empathy for the obvious agony being experienced by her. However, a powerful need to grasp the total picture of the situation in which the world had been placed prompted him to ask another question, even before she had finished crying.
"No one has really said this out loud but I hear us heading in this direction anyway. We're going to hell, aren't we? I guess I never thought of hell as a real place but if these people who were raptured today are with God and Jesus Christ in heaven, then it seems logical that those who aren't with God are headed for the other place. Is that so?"
"Dad, maybe we should let Ronni take a break from all these questions and get a little rest."
"No, Mark. I said earlier that I feel you people deserve to know the truth as I understand it and I plan to follow through with my pledge." Ronni dried her face and then continued to talk quietly, hands clenched tightly in her lap.
"I wish I could soften my answer to your question about hell, Dan, but as I know the Bible, we are all going to spend eternity there. We may live long enough to die natural deaths. But when we do die, it will be to go to a literal hell."
Again a long silence filled the comfortable living room and everyone avoided eye contact. At last Dan broke the silence by switching on the FM tuner of his sound system. An easy-listening music cut was just ending and a recorded public service announcement filled the room.
"Families and friends of missing children in the Harrisburg area are invited to attend memorial services Sunday afternoon at 2:30 in the Forum, the Farm Show Arena, the Zembo Mosque, and the Hersheypark Arena. Each family is encouraged to take one wallet-sized picture of each missing child to the service of your choice. At the conclusion of the service, these pictures will be placed in small caskets and then buried on the mall behind the Capitol Building. A monument will be placed at this spot in memory of the young citizens of Pennsylvania who will not be served by the Commonwealth's public schools and institutions of higher education."
"Let's do it, Dan please? As a special favor to me?"
The elder Marlow looked in his wife's tear-bright eyes and gently shook his head. "Karen, honey, you know what Ronni said. Nowhere on this entire planet is there even one person who can claim a personal relationship with God. So what good will it do for us to go to a memorial service with some hypocrite up front, reading from a book he doesn't understand and talking about a God he doesn't know?"
"Please, Dan. We can't have a funeral and I'd feel better somehow if we reverenced Kevin and Kellie's memory in some special way."
Karen rose and crossed to where Dan was still standing beside the sound system. She slid her arms around his waist and laid her shining head on his shoulder. Gradually his body relaxed and moved against hers. When he buried his face in her hair she knew the answer was affirmative.
"All right, Karen, we'll do it. For them and you, we'll do it."
She lifted her face and softly kissed his firm mouth.
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