Hephistames flinched. Such sights were hardly new to him. But the man was sliding the machete over the grinding stone with such obvious cruelty that Hephistames couldn’t help but think of its intended victims. He glanced over at his partner who was checking on the preparation of the other guerrillas. Keep still, came the unvoiced reply, don’t even move.
The warrior followed his friend’s glance upwards. Perched high on the disfigured branches of an ancient, gnarled baobab tree was a malignant form. The demon’s red eyes blazed with incandescent malice. Vitriol dripped from its claws, burning perverted runnels into the already scarred trunk. Behind the monster, half hidden in the darkness of night, Hephistames could make out another four of the devil-spawn. They were easily out-numbered.
“They will be ready to move out within the next hour.”
“I agree.” Archelon looked deeply troubled. “We should return to our charges. Perhaps we may yet save the children.”
“Has there been no word?”
Hephistames fought to keep his voice from shaking. “A little time remains. Help may yet come.”
The angels had been assigned to guard over the McBrides and O’Sullivans, two missionary families posted deep within the interior of Congo. For three long years the two couples with their five young children had struggled to convey a message of love and reconciliation to men and women long traumatised by the horrors of ethnic cleansing. The fruits of their labour were becoming increasing obvious, much to the irritation of the ruling powers of darkness. Accordingly, a mere six weeks before, an ultimatum had been delivered by drunken thugs from the Interahamwe: pack up and go home – or suffer the unimaginable consequences.
After praying and fasting, the two families had decided to stand firm. They wrote an urgent appeal for prayer to their supporters back home. But the letters never arrived. The postal clerk in Kisangani held on to the unsorted bag of mail as he needed fresh bedding for his chicken run. For six weeks the McBrides and O’Sullivans comforted themselves with the thought that they were being upheld in prayer, unaware that they were entirely alone in their hour of desperate need.
The guerrillas approached furtively. They didn’t know whether the missionaries were armed. Several of the men had been smoking dagga, a potent form of marijuana. These would be the most brazen in their attack and in turn the most brutal.
Unseen by human eyes, Hephistames and Archelon stationed themselves in the forecourt of the missionary compound. A half-dozen sinners did not pose much of a challenge, but the two angels would be set upon by the fiends who hovered contemptuously in the air above the Interahamwe.
“Is there still no word?”
“None. They are abandoned. No one has stood in the gap.”
The O’Sullivans’ home church held a missionary prayer meeting on the first Thursday of every month. But the missionary secretary had cancelled it because of the summer holidays. The Spirit spoke to the pastor of the McBrides’ church and he duly wrote the request on his notes for Sunday. But his child took sick and in all the confusion the notes were left at home. Thus no one prayed.
Archelon drew his sword and prepared himself for the worst. No angel cared to lose his charges. But the Maker’s ways were sacrosanct. He chose to limit his activities upon the earth by making them dependent on the prayers of the saints. When his people gave themselves to intercession, the heavens shook with power. But when the church was silent, the devils rejoiced.
The light was blinding in its intensity. A cohort of angels materialised, swords brandished. The demons turned tail and fled, unthinkingly slashing at one another in their terror. Sudden panic seized the guerrillas and they disappeared into the surrounding jungle, their weapons scattered in their headlong flight.
“Someone prayed?” asked Hephistames.
“Not yet,” said one of the newcomers. “But the Maker has already heard.”
The letter took four months to reach Aberdeen. Kicked to one side of the post office floor, it was finally picked up and sent on its way. Mrs Ethel Magillacuddy seized the missive the moment it fell through her letterbox. She didn’t even glance at the date at the top. Falling at once to her knees, she implored the Lord to protect her friends in far away Congo, unaware that the danger was already long past.
But God who is outside of time heard. And sent the word.
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