It is requested that the reader engage in the popular childhood game of Let’s Pretend. Let’s pretend that the year is set in the distant future, or perhaps the not so distant future, and the most astonishing event in the annals of mankind had occurred just three years before.
Let us pretend. ...
... “Well, fans, it all comes down to this ... one last play. International State faces a 4th and goal from the three yard line. Five seconds to go in the game and Pan Gaia Tech has the lead, 21-17.”
“They’re out of the huddle. Goldstein with the signals. He takes ... looking ... looking. They’re after ‘em. He’s out of the pocket. End zone ... touchdown ... touchdown! Al-Arafat with a diving catch. It’s all over. State wins 23-21 and they are the champions of the inaugural 666 Bowl.”
… “And now let’s go to the field and our sideline reporter, Bip Larue, for the trophy presentation.”
“Thanks Chip, and you, too, Flip. I’m here with the Supreme One, Mr. Satayne Lucifore, who will present the trophy to the winning coach, Jan Krohbaar, of International State. Mr. Lucifore ...”
Satayne Lucifore had celebrated his 40th birthday on Halloween. Tall and athletic with thick dark brown hair, sparkling, svengali-like green eyes, and breathtakingly handsome features that had accorded him rock-star status; he was the first man who could truly claim the title of King of the World. Possessed of a deep and powerful voice that enthralled those who heard it, he accepted the microphone.
“Thank you, Bip. To begin, I want to congratulate both teams for making the inaugural 666 Bowl such a memorable one. I applaud the efforts of the fine people of New Earth City and I must say that I am most impressed by the grandeur of the Stadium of the Americas. We welcome the peoples of the Earth, those viewing the telecast on GlobalTV and those tuning into the game on Earth Allied Radio. As you know, I created the 666 Bowl as both a tribute and a symbol of the strength and solidarity that all humankind exhibited in response to the chaos and confusion of the recent past. Coach Krohbaar, I am very proud to present to you and your fine University the first GloBowl Trophy, symbolic of the Champions of the Earth.”
On cue, The Anthem to Earth and Space, a haunting but stirring New Age tune, erupted from the stadium loudspeakers while a gigantic World flag, a rectangle of green with a gold hemispheric globe in the center surrounded by ten silver stars, was unfurled on the field. The trophy, resting on a table of ebony and Royal White marble, draped in purple velvet fringed in gold, was wheeled to midfield escorted by ten attendants, representing the races of humanity (1) , each garbed in a cream-colored robe.
The trophy, gleaming beneath the bright winter sun, was crafted of solid gold, consisting of a yellow gold six-sided base with six diamond-studded, white gold vertical columns upon which rested a yellow gold, basketball-sized sculpture of the world. Standing atop the globe was a white gold representation of the mythological Greek god, Zeus, the ruler of heaven and earth, 12 inches tall. The orb was encircled by six bejeweled thunderbolts; three radiating from each of the figure’s clenched fists.
“I am deeply humbled, Mr. Lucifore”, spoke the winning coach. “It is such an honor to accept this trophy and I, and I know all the citizens of Earth, want to thank you for the leadership you have exhibited and the inspiration you have been for all of us in uniting the world as it has never been before.”
Reverentially silent from the moment Lucifore took the microphone, the capacity crowd of more than 150,000 fans applauded raucously as Coach Krohbaar placed both hands upon the trophy.
“Coach, Bip Larue here. What are your feelings right now?”
“Well, to be the first Champions of Earth is overwhelming, Bip, especially winning on the last play. But my thoughts and emotions are for my wife and son and daughter. You know, of course, that they were victims of the Great Chastisement and I want to dedicate this moment to them.”
“I know how you feel, coach. Many of us lost loved ones back then. And once again, coach, congratulations to you and your team. And now back to the booth and your broadcast team, Chip and Flip Larue. This is Bip Larue reporting from the 50 yard line.”
* * *
… “M-m-man it’s c-c-cold in here” was the statement of the obvious from one Arli Ryan. Petite and in her early twenties, she could have been the girl-next-door but she was ragged, with filthy bell-bottomed jeans, a faded tie-dyed blouse and long unkempt dirty-blonde hair framed by a tattered psychedelic head band. The emaciated girl appeared a transported refugee from a long-ago Summer of Love and now she found herself deposited into the foul surroundings of a holding cell that would have made a medieval dungeon proud.
Tossing his lone blanket to his shivering cellmate, Jonny Goode glared through the dim light at what he suspected was once a quite attractive young lady. A political science professor, Goode had been arrested when he inadvertently mentioned the word “Bible” at his fortieth birthday party. “Welcome to the Ritz. Name’s Jonny … and yours …?”
“Arlene … I hate it. They call me Arli … you got any food, man?”
Goode snickered. “Well, we have an all you can eat buffet consisting of whatever unfortunate creature you happen to step upon, and once it gets dark, the main course … rodent du jour.”
Staring at Goode’s grimy, unshaven face, the ache in Arli’s stomach increased when she realized that his expression suggested that he was only half-joking. “I think I’ll pass, I’m on a diet.”
Jonny spat, and then excused himself. “So what’s with the … ah, costume …?”
Arli sighed. “I dropped out, you know, and joined that cult ... the Reincarnated Hippie People, RHP. They call us rhippies, not hippies. It was cool for awhile. We swore off money and lived off the land. But there were too many who wouldn’t eat animals and then the vegetable rights people started to drop in; you know … ‘vegetables have feelings, too’. They’d pop a pill and say it tasted like pizza or something. Man, I thought I was far out. You ever eat a corned beef on rye that looked like a vitamin tablet?” Goode smiled. “We got desperate and one night a bunch of brothers stole a horse from a nearby ranch. We were gonna eat it and then one of my sisters said she’d married a Clydesdale in one of those civil ceremonies a while back and she was repulsed by our lack of sensitivity to the horse. Accused us of a hate crime or something. Man, I thought I was far out. That was it for me. I dropped out. They caught me stealing a bag of cheese doodles from one of those convenience stores.” … So … what’re you in for….?”
Goode stared in disbelief. “What am I in for?! … What are we all in for?! … I’m not taking that damn Mark of Lucifore’s.”
“That’s cool. I swore off materialism, too, but a hot cup of that fifty-dollar coffee would sure feel good right now … So, why not the Mark?”
“I had a girlfriend”, Goode reminisced. “She’d talk about religion and salvation and why we should get married. It got on my nerves. Then it was something she called the Rapture. I thought she was nuts. One night we went out for supper. I’m driving down the highway and I asked her where she wanted to go after we ate. She didn’t answer so I looked over at her … and she was gone. Just plain gone. That was the night of the Great Chastisement. When I got home, our son was gone, too. But I found his Bible and now I know what happened. She was right … the Rapture. I confessed my sins and accepted Jesus. It’s not too late for you, too, Arli. Taking that Mark will send you to Hell.”
Suddenly, with a frightening jolt, guards, ghoulish in their black garb, assaulted the cell and dragged Goode to his penultimate destination: Interrogation Room 666, or as Jonny had dubbed it: the Last Chance Saloon. Before leaving, one guard kicked Arli’s stomach and, with raspy voice, threatened that she would be next.
Several hours later Goode was returned to his cell, his teeth having been introduced to the steel toes of an enraged guard’s jackboots.
Jonny Goode had refused the Mark.
* * *
… Great fanfare had accompanied the introduction of the MARKeting the Mark campaign. The idea of a mark that would number all humankind had been introduced by Lucifore at his annual World Corporate Summit in New Earth City. Though skepticism greeted the proposal, Lucifore knew that the road to a corporate executive’s mind was a Street named Wall.
Once national borders had been eradicated, nations such as North Korea and Cuba had become convenient sources of ultra cheap labor. Combined with a workforce of “volunteers”, those who were suspected of being less than enthusiastic with Lucifore’s dictates, the resultant low-cost supply and guarantee of huge profits enabled business to embrace Satayne’s consumer-friendly program enthusiastically.
The campaign was based upon the long accepted business practice of “Buy one, Get one”. Several of the world’s largest advertising agencies had contracted to promote the idea and the world was inundated with advertisements. “After all”, Lucifore had remarked as a Cheshire grin seized his face, “people just love a bargain.”
“Buy one, get one … with use of your Mark”. “Buy one, get one … and save an additional 20% with purchases over $1,000 with use of your Mark. The ad campaign had been so obsessive that many people were sleep-talking the slogan.
A frenzy of acceptance swept the world as Followers, or Lucifornicans, as Satayne had dubbed them, received, and in many cases, demanded the Mark.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average exploded to heights not seen before and Wall Street hailed the Mark as the greatest economic innovation of all time.
Speculation abounded concerning the choice of the number 666, but Lucifore remained coy, indicating only that someone had “whispered it into his ear”.
Within weeks the Mark had been accepted in businesses worldwide. World News International had even reported of male and female brothels, legalized so as to enhance tax revenues, offering “buy one get two” and “buy one get three” specials and had cited several instances of buy one get unlimited … with use of your mark.
Yessiree, one could say that there was a veritable explosion of economic activity …
Natural Man is corrupted by his lust for money, power and control; greed, you might say. With the universal embrace of his Mark, Lucifore had scored his trifecta.
Spiritual Man is corrupted by his lust for the Ultimate: to be as god. While an orgy of buy and sell had swept all reason from the world, a cesspit of blasphemy, abomination, and debauchery was festering beneath the horizon. Lucifore and his sidekick, Mr. Fallon Profitt, had just completed the itinerary that would take them to the Great Temple in Jerusalem where they would issue a thunderbolt of a proclamation that would conflagrate the world.
Mr. Satayne Lucifore, the self-styled Supreme President, was soon to embark on a personal ascension that would take him to his Ultimate … in more ways than one.
... But Satayne Lucifore was wrong; not everyone loved a bargain. There were some who were hesitant to receive his Mark but relented once subjected to Satayne’s gentle and loving “persuasion”.
… And then there were the Anarchrists.
Immediately after he had proclaimed himself the god of all Humanity, Lucifore issued Supreme Directive One which banned the Christian Bible as subversive literature; then began the Reign of Hysteria, as millions of Bibles were confiscated, some through force but most relinquished willingly, and burned in public displays of loyalty. Others were recycled and made into bathroom tissue.
It was the dying days of planet Earth, a world buffeted by the roiling oceans of Madness, but some had kept their Bibles and found comfort, strength, and truth. Given the choice of accepting the Mark, they had chosen Someone else: Jesus Christ. In a blind rage, Lucifore had dubbed them the Anarchrists, a blend of the word anarchist and the name Jesus Christ, the One who was now the Enemy of all. With his utopian paradise nearly complete, he turned his attention to them, his last remaining obstacle.
... And Madness demanded revenge.
* * *
Throughout time, man has turned to sport to escape the ills of his fallen state. Those more jaded, perhaps, might cite warfare, the true sport of Kings. The ancient Greeks made do with their Olympics; the Romans, the bread and circuses of chariot races and gladiatorial combat. During the Middle Ages, nobleman and serf alike mingled at the jousting tournaments.
Modern Man, the Master of Materialism, Creature of Leisure and Convenience, had expanded the concept of sports beyond the athletic. Whether Super Bowls or World Series; attending garish, neon cathedrals of decadence and greed called casinos or following the latest misadventures of the cartoonish bankruptcies of vainglory and superficiality masquerading as the “newest talents” and the “latest sensations”; piggish food eating contests that gave new meaning to gluttony or a paradoxical invention of mass illusion promoted as Reality TV, there was no shortage of entertainment to sate his appetites.
Tribulation Man journeyed to the past for his present, borrowing from the Romans. In palatial closed and open-air Coliseums of plush seating and sleek sight lines; dining on sushi and prime rib and the “peanuts and crackerjack” of designer popcorn and Beluga caviar and all washed down with fifty-dollar cups of corporate caffe latte and hundred-dollar flagons of imported beer; where he could spectate in luxury, commingling with the ghosts of Caligula and Nero, Trajan and Diocletian; cheering and applauding, hooting and whistling, he engaged in Natural Man’s last sporting spectacle: The Final Solutions.com Blood Bowl … the extermination of the post-Rapture Christians.
* * *
The executions of those who refused the Mark were held on Sunday, excluding autumn when they were moved to Saturday, so as not to interfere with the pro-football season. The event was a lavish, ceremonial spectacle of priestly pronouncements, martial music, and, upon conclusion, a gala fireworks display. The condemned, heads shaven and clothed in crude red tunics, were paraded onto the killing field in the company of Satayne’s golden-robed priests. Each victim’s forehead was stamped with an execution number, Lucifore having become obsessed with an accurate account of those who had rejected him. As their names were announced, the last of the good that humanity had produced were sacrificed to the god of Maniacism, the god of Lies.
An admirer of Robespierre, mastermind of the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror, Lucifore had chosen the guillotine as his killing machine. Fully automated with a glistening angled blade, the efficient device was programmed to emit a searing, high-pitched squeal as the blade descended; inducing shivers from even the most hardened attendees. The Hellifax, a name similar in sound to an early guillotine-like device called the Halifax Gibbet (2) , were aligned in three rows of six machines and each was manned, or wo-manned, by two executioners.
During intermission, fans were able to replenish while priests gathered the blood that was to be used for the executioner’s purification rites, though there were rumors that much of the blood was purified, seasoned and served in various capacities at the feasts of the Tables of the Just Ones.
* * *
… And so it was that Jonny Goode and Arli Ryan had found their last day. Both had been given the Final Chance to accept the Mark but Jonny had spat blood upon the sandals of the high priest Inquisitor and Arli had whispered “Jesus”.
Side-by-side they marched to the Hellifax, Arli crying and Jonny spitting. Wiping a tear, Arli gasped.
“Roscoe … Roscoe. It’s me … Arli”. Her voice softened … “your sister.”
Roscoe Ryan was a squat, hulk of a man, two handles shy of resembling a refrigerator. He had made millions on Wall Street and had an uncanny ability to weasel his way out of the many financial scandals that had been the hallmark of his career. But it was the end of the Age of Common Sense and Ethics, Principles and Integrity were considered museum pieces; as Roscoe had joked to his clients: “people think Scruples is a breakfast cereal.” His senses dulled by the world of finance, he had found a new game to sharpen them … executioner.
“You think I don’t know that, bitch”, his features frozen in an expression of hatred, first, and then amusement. “It’s an honor to execute a family member and you get special status, too; bonuses and bargains. And for every ‘loved one’ “, his voice soaked in sarcasm, “you get a free dinner with the Supreme One at the Table of the Just Ones. C’mon, Arlene dear, you always knew my favorite four letter F word was free … well, usually. Just consider yourself my very special … Buy one, Get one”
It would not be Roscoe’s first dinner.
Several months previous, a supervisor had shown a rare moment of compassion and offered a substitute as Roscoe’s mother approached his Hellifax. Ever the good soldier, he had refused. “Besides, she always liked that slut of a sister better than me”, was his reasoning.
As Arli was strapped to the bed of the machine, face-up, “the better to see the blade fall, my dear”, as Roscoe was prone to say, she made one last plea: “I don’t know if it’s too late for you, Roscoe, but, dear God, accept Jesus!”
“Here’s my salvation right here, bitch”, Roscoe screamed. “Here’s where the power is; where the righteousness is.”
Roscoe thrust the back of his right hand into Arli’s face, bloodying her nose, as the 666 Mark glowed. The Mark was designed to be emotion-sensitive, causing some historians to joke that it had been patterned after a lamentable invention from the 1970’s known as a mood ring, and Roscoe’s mark was a ferocious red.
“Kiss it, bitch. You’re the one who’s lost. I win, bitch … I always win.”
Then he pressed the kill button and a guttural, nearly primordial sound escaped from him, emanating from a pit so deep within him even he could not determine its origin.
And then the shrieks and cries from the crowd were overwhelmed by the otherworldly screams of the Hellifax as the Blades of Death descended.
* * *
... In a faraway time and place of unimaginable bliss, where reward had followed acceptance, where the darkness of man’s most vile imaginations was replaced by the Light of Love, a father and his ten year old son rested on a cloud high above the sparkling New Jerusalem.
“Too breathtaking for words, isn’t it, Jimmy?”
“Sure is, dad. So, dad, tell me what happened back then. I was just a little kid and didn’t really understand.”
The father chuckled. “Well, son, by the time of the Rapture, violence, greed and lust ruled men’s souls. It was as Jesus had said in the Gospel of Luke, ‘as it was in the days of Noah’ (3) . That was the nature of fallen man, but by then, it was wickedness on steroids.”
“Gee, dad, you mean like that ballplayer who hit 173 home runs the year before the Rapture.”
“Ah ... I think you have the picture, Jimmy … It was time, God had seen enough of the degradation of His creation.”
“How did that Antichrist guy fool the people so easily?”
“Jimmy, when the Rapture occurred and millions disappeared, there was worldwide pandemonium. People were gripped by a fear not seen since the first raindrop fell on old Noah’s Ark. There was rioting, looting, rapes and murder. Most people thought the world was coming to an end. The Antichrist, who was an influential member of the world community, was the first to address the situation …
“Yeah, dad, but didn’t he say that he was a Born-again Christian? I remember that.”
“That was part of his plan, son. The Gospel had been proclaimed throughout the world and many realized that what was called the Great Chastisement was actually the Rapture. Millions wanted to turn to Jesus and the Antichrist’s sincerity was questioned, since he hadn’t vanished. But he was a brilliant man. He restored order to a chaotic world. His words had a hypnotic effect on people. Folks were frightened and he brought them hope and security. He had a presence, an aura about him that just captivated anyone who saw or heard him. After that, it was easy to con the world into believing that, since he had professed Jesus, he was the real deal and those who were raptured had been punished by God.”
“But how did he get everybody into taking that 666 Mark, dad?”
“You know, Jimmy, Jesus was born the Messiah in the fullness of His time ...”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, I’m getting to that ... Antichrist arrived in the fullness of his time, too. The world was polarized between the Left and the Right. Too many on the Right were deceived by religious hucksters who exploited Jesus as a political tool to divide and serpent-tongued politicians who put their hands on a Bible, spouted “Jesus talk” when the cameras were rolling, and then slithered to their offices and sold their souls to whatever special interest pimp willing to stuff easy campaign cash into their bulging pockets. They expected their political leaders to be religious ones, too. When the Antichrist, the President of the World, proclaimed himself god, those on the Right had found their perfect politician. And they worshipped Capitalism, as well. The Book of the Revelation said that ‘no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark’ (4) . It didn’t say speak or write, or worship or associate, it said buy or sell. And buy and sell was economics, demand and supply, and no economic methodology fed that desire more than Capitalism. Once Wall Street embraced the Mark, and it did quickly, right-wing folks were hooked. The Antichrist knew that the way to a man’s heart was through his wallet.”
“What about those people you called left-wingers?”
The father sighed. “Jimmy, they were long gone by then. They were doing things you wouldn’t have found in one of those MaXXX Magazines or those Hollywood movies they were making. And when the Antichrist proclaimed himself man-made-god and did that ah … ah … queer thing in the Temple with his good buddy, the False Prophet, and never you mind, well, the left wing crowd was convinced, too.”
“... Hey dad, didn’t you used to read that MaXXX Magazine”?
“James ... let’s not stray from the issue here ... You see, son, you can‘t divide a man in half and know what makes him tick. You have to look at the whole man. Because so many people had fallen for the rhetoric of divisiveness, Conservatism and Liberalism became their belief systems. When the Antichrist was manifested, most people only saw what they wanted to see. He became all things to all people. A long time ago, Abraham Lincoln made a famous statement …”
“Who’s he, dad?”
“Oh, yeah, I almost forgot that they stopped teaching you kids things like that. Well, he was the President of the United States, when there still was a United States, during a terrible time known as the American Civil War. He said that ‘you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time’. Because the Antichrist appealed to people’s biases, he was able to sell himself to everyone. He seized power at a time when he was able to fool all of the people all of the time. The real irony is that he didn’t fool anybody, the people fooled themselves. He just gave them what he knew they wanted. That, Jimmy, is what is meant by coming in the fullness of his time.”
“Gosh, he must have been a real slick guy.”
“He was a sly one, that Antichrist. You might say that the Devil taught him well. But he met his Waterloo at Armageddon.”
“He didn’t fool you, dad ... did he?”
“No, son ... but almost. Thank God he didn’t.”
“Did it hurt a lot, dad?”
“Not anymore, Jimmy, not anymore.”
His eyes filled with wonder, the son surveyed the magnificence that was the real Heaven-on-Earth ... “So, dad, we all accepted Jesus and He gave us our reward ... Heaven!”
“And praise be His name, too!” answered his father.
... “You know what, dad, I guess we got our own ... um ... um ... buy one, get one!”
Jonny Goode laughed and hugged his son.
... “Jimmy ... I couldn’t have said it any better … myself.”
Then hand-in-hand the two descended from the cloud. It was lunch time and mom was calling and later that afternoon an old friend of Jonny’s was stopping by for coffee.
(1) Reference Zoroastrianism and its ancient scriptures, the Avesta. According to Zoroastrianism cosmology, the Bundahishn, chapter X1V, verse 1: “One says in the Scripture: ["I created forth ten species of mankind": first, the shining and white-eyed, that is Gayomard, up to ten species: as the ninth from Gayomard was again one Gayomard, the tenth was the monkey, which one says is the lowest of mankind.
(2) The Halifax Gibbet was an earlier version of the Guillotine and was used for public executions between the 13th and the 17th centuries. The Gibbet utilized an ax-shaped blade and was simply dropped from a height several feet above the victim.
(3) Luke 17:26 KJV
(4) Rev 13:17 KJV