The lingering shriek of a lone sufferer echoed along the ashen rock walls, signaling the millions within the barren gorge to take another stride forward. Devon Nichols, a participant in the miserable march for months, perhaps years, still shuttered at each agonizing scream. Roughly a dozen seconds filled the anxious silence between the horrid cries. Each was the wail of a different individual, rising in anguish above the wretched millions. Devon’s blistered and swollen feet, like the feet of all surrounding him, seemed to move involuntarily with each horrifying shriek.
It was in college where Devon first understood his gift. Few, he realized, spoke like him. Even less could hold a crowd’s attention the way he could. And no one could convince the weak ones like he did. Some, he delighted in finding, he could persuade to do practically anything.
The sluggish river of souls churned forward. Every dejected head crooked downward. From the corners of his vision, Devon noticed a change in the high rock walls of the chasm. They were gradually angling inward, compressing the suffering marchers tightly together. Funneling all, Devon realized, toward the loudening screams.
He had found them and they had found him. It was destiny, and he told them. He fed them and taught them and gave them his love. They worshiped him and he let them. After a time, two fled from the Haven causing confusion among the early Disciples. Those who fled, Devon prophesied, would certainly encounter death. Three weeks following the departure of the Fallen, Devon showed his Disciples the picture that silenced all confusion. Their Prophet had spoken true.
Devon counted the number of individuals separating him from the piercing light. From the brightness flowed a voice so pure it pained Devon’s ears. The radiant figure identified each of the damned who stepped before him, then sternly spoke words of truth and eternity.
The Evil One controlled the worldly governments, Devon told them. Three-dozen adults worked furiously to fortify the Haven and its domain. “Protect the Prophet at all costs,” spoke the Disciples. Several did. As the battle raged into its second day, Devon found comfort with his wives in the safety of an underground bunker. He described the coming Paradise he had created and would share with them. All but one believed.
No one stood between Devon and the Angel of the Lord. Devon cringed and cowered at the final calling of his name. Stepping forward Devon felt the once solid ground give way to a covering of dense, warm coals. He stood ankle deep in the shifting ground before the radiant being spoke again.
She was the youngest and most beautiful of Devon’s wives. Headstrong, willful, she never grasped the blessing of being selected by the Prophet. Devon believed she would eventually understand that he was the only path to peace and happiness. But in the end, she was too much like her wayward brother, one of the Fallen. In the bunker, with the Worldly ones closing in, she pointed a small revolver toward Devon, said “You’re not a prophet”, and pulled the trigger.
Devon descended slowly beneath the imposing angel.
“I, appointed by Jesus the Christ to deliver His judgment, condemn you Devon Nichols as one who has chosen to remain in sin. You are a liar, a false prophet, and a blasphemer of the Truth. Like Satan, you are a deceiver of souls and your wicked charade has led others away from eternal joy with Jesus the Christ.”
A long, dark arm rose from the coals, its crooked claws digging into Devon’s chest. The filthy hand of a second arm extending from below smothered his painful cry. A third limb, or tentacle, emerged and latched around his shoulders. Words from the radiant being continued to pour painfully into Devon’s ears.
“Your punishment is two fold. For a time you will be bound in a chamber holding the souls you have led to this vile realm. They will give no mercy. Then, like all who have chosen sin, you will encounter the burning lake that is never satisfied. Devon Nichols, reap what you have sown.”
The arms grasping Devon’s body tugged and hastened his descent into the suddenly glowing coals.
The grotesque hand covering his mouth released its grip.
Devon Nichol’s piercing scream resonated along the ashen walls of the barren gorge long after his head disappeared beneath the dying embers. The millions waiting along the wide road took another stride forward.
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