© 2018 by B. Civyl

The Good Shepherd's Keeper: Vol. I

a story by B. Civyl

Chapter 1

Fires of Heaven

     “Good evening and welcome to ‘Nasir’s View’ on MSNBC.  I’m Nasir Bahar.  Our guest tonight is the unknown author of a book believed to have predicted the unprecedented resurrection of Usama bin Laden we witnessed just weeks ago.  We do not know his name and he refuses to show us his face, but considering the international attention he has drawn, we could not deny his request to appear on our show.  Thank you for joining us, sir.”

     The news feed cut to two cameras.  On the left was the olive-skinned Nasir Bahar in his favorite grey suit with a red shirt and silver tie.  On the right was the darkened silhouette of a man sitting in a chair with a bottle of water on the end table to his side.

     The man’s voice was soft; barely audible.  “Th… th… thank you for having me.”

     Nasir nodded.  “The pleasure is mine.”  He was cordial as always – professional – despite the thrill he felt at the opportunity to expose his guest as a fraud.  “So tell me, who are you?  What would you like us to call you?”

     “I … I like to think of myself as the Good Shepherd’s Keeper.”

     “That might be a bit of a mouthful for some of my viewers.  Can we call you by something shorter?”

     “Elijah.  My name is Elijah.”

     “That's it?  Just Elijah?  No last name?”

     “No.”

     “Okay Elijah.  So why all the secrecy?”

     Elijah shuffled in his seat.  “I … gu … gu … I gue …”  His half-chuckle sounded of embarrassment.  “Excuse me.”  He picked up the water bottle, twisted off its cap and took a sip. 

     Nasir scoffed but said nothing.  That better not be vodka.

     Elijah cleared his throat as he placed the bottle back down on the end table beside him.  “I … guess people just scare me.”

     “Why is that?”

     “I … I watch the news.  I see what's going on in the world; the demonstrations and all that.  I hear what people are saying about me.  … I have a family to look after.  And to be honest with you, I'm afraid what might happen if people find out who I am.”

     “Fair enough.”  It was time to ask the question that vexed Nasir the most.  His pulse quickened with anticipation.  “Now, of all the shows out there, you requested to be on this program.  May we know why?” 

     “Well, Mr. Bahar, I … I guess I just like you.  You strike me as someone who at least tries to do the right thing, which is more than can be said for a lot of people.  And I … appreciate your views on the world.”

     “If you appreciate my views then you know that I’m not a supporter of you or your work.  I think you’ve unnecessarily frightened a lot of people.  In fact, I’ve gone on record as saying that your actions are reckless and irresponsible.”  Nasir paused, hoping for a snide retort – anything to spice up what was turning out to be a rather boring interview.

     “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

     Silence ensued.  Unable to instigate a heated response, Nasir stared down at the note cards in his hands.  Got to keep it moving.  “Elijah, you’ve been criticized by a lot of people.  You’ve been called a lunatic and a narcissist, a fraud, even the antichrist.  And yet there are also people out there who think you’re a prophet or some sort of messenger from God.  So tell us, straight from the horse’s mouth, who, or should I say what are you?”

     “Um … I guess, Mr. Bahar, that … I can't be anything if history doesn't first prove it to be true.”

     What the hell is that supposed to mean?

     Before Nasir could muster a professional response, Elijah elaborated.  “You know, I struggled with that same question for quite a long time, myself.  ‘What am I?’ … As far as I'm concerned, I'm just me.  I'm Eli … because if I ever lose sight of who I am as a person, then what I am is completely irrelevant.  So I just focus on being me.  What everyone else wants to believe is up to them.”

     Nasir nodded, unsatisfied with Elijah’s answer but eager to get to the next question.  “Okay … bin Laden; in your book you wrote a passage:

But it has long since come to pass, they leaped upon the compound, they ran upon the wall, they climbed up into the house; they entered in at the windows like a thief; they broke through the weapons, and they suffered no harm.  Before them the earth quaketh, his family trembled, the wound to his eye became blood red, and the moon withdrew its shining.  And the Lord hath given His command before His army; for His camp is very great, for He is mighty that executeth His word; for great is the day of the Lord and very terrible; and who can bin Laden?'

     “In this passage, not only did you seem to predict the resurrection of Usama bin Laden, but you ask ‘Who can bin Laden?’  Are we to believe that the resurrection we all witnessed was fake – that this bin Laden that washed up on the beach in Tartus, Syria is really an imposter?”

     Elijah chuckled.  “You don't believe that of all people, God really chose Usama bin Laden to resurrect, do you?”

     “Well, no.  I suppose I have some skepticism …”

     “Well there you go.”

     “But we watched bin Laden emerge from the sea, gunshot wound to the eye and all.  We watched the sky ignite in flames on his command.  Since his return – al-Qaeda, the Taliban, al-Khalidoun, Hezbollah, Hamas, Boko Haram – all these terrorist organizations have declared peace in bin Laden's name.  In fact, there hasn't been a single bombing in the Middle-East or Africa in almost two weeks now.  That's unprecedented.”

     Elijah’s voice brimmed with sarcasm.  “And you’re attributing all that to bin Laden?  I'm pretty sure that if al-Khalidoun hadn't already conquered Damascus, there would still be plenty of bombs going off in Syria right now.  So let's not pretend that bin Laden is the only reason the Middle East is currently at peace.”

     “All I’m saying is that since his return, bin Laden has performed miracles of all shapes and sizes.  But since the discovery of your book, you’ve done nothing but raise fear and panic.  Now you’re saying that the man the Arab world is hailing as their prophesied messiah is actually an imposter.  So then tell us, who is Usama bin Laden, really?” 

     There was a long and uncomfortable pause as Nasir awaited an answer.

     “He's the antichrist.”

     Nasir snickered, a half-contrived reaction to the deluded paranoia he hoped to encounter in his interview.  He was not about to allow Elijah to use his show to provoke the public.  He would smear his reputation instead.  “Isn’t that what a lot of people are saying about you?” 

     Elijah chuckled.  “No … I’m not the antichrist.  Before all this, a friend of mine actually told me that I sounded like the antichrist.  But no, no I’m not.”

     “But bin Laden is?”

     “Yes.  He’s the devil incarnate.”

     “Okay.  I’m not saying I buy it, but you’re telling us he’s an imposter.  Why won’t you tell us who this imposter is?  Or do you not know?”

     “Oh, I know …”  Elijah took another drink from his bottle.

     “Well?” Nasir persisted.

     “Here’s the thing … it may be my obligation to speak out against the antichrist, but I also have a responsibility not to obstruct his emergence.  I want to tell you who he is, and I will – soon.  But I … it’s just not the right time yet.”

     Nasir sighed and rolled his eyes, frustrated.  “I'm afraid I'm not following you.”

     “I’ll explain.”  Elijah’s hands grew animated as he spoke.  For the first time in the interview, there was passion in his voice, and not a hint of a stutter.  “Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have these prophecies telling us of this anti-messiah that’s supposed to emerge and create all kinds of madness and chaos … but God doesn’t do anything to stop it.  Why?  Because He can’t?  To make that assumption would be to assume God is fallible, which we know can't be true.  The reason God doesn't stop Satan from rising again is because He doesn't want to.  Satan serves a purpose to God.  So to stand in the way of his emergence would be to oppose God’s will.  … Like I said, it's just not the right time yet.”

     Nasir was quick to point out Elijah’s admission to the heresy of which many accused him.  “You see, this is what I’m talking about!  What was it the Pope said?  ‘I refuse to recognize the legitimacy of any man claiming Lucifer to be a servant of the Lord.'  With that kind of publicity working against you, why should anyone take you seriously?”

     “I would remind the Pope that God created both good and evil.”

     Nasir felt energized at the prospect of discrediting his guest.  Nowhere in Elijah’s book did he find reference to any religious texts.  He would use this to his advantage.  “And where in the Bible does it say that?”

     “Genesis, I think.  No …”

     “Isaiah!” Nasir scoffed.  “You see!  You talk about religion as if you’re some kind of all-knowing scholar, but you can’t even tell me what passage you’re referencing.  What business do you have telling me, or anyone for that matter, what we should or shouldn’t believe?”

     Nasir won.  Elijah’s voice flared.  “D… did y… you … you even read my book?!”  With a loud smack he slapped his hand upon his thigh.  “I m… mu… must have said a hundred times that it doesn’t matter what we believe!  It only matters that we don’t fall for that phony bin Laden!  I’m telling you, he’s evil!”

     “And you know this because God told you.  Why should we believe that?!”

     Elijah sighed.  “I didn’t come on your show to defend myself.

     Inside, Nasir was like a tiger, crouching predatorily before his prey.  Well, you better be prepared to!  Instead, he straightened up and tapped his notecards against his desk.  “I asked you a fair and honest question.  Why should we believe that God told you that Usama bin Laden is the antichrist?”

     “Because He didn’t tell just me.  He told all of us.  He told Muslims that the antichrist would have only one eye.  He told Christians that he would be slain with a wound to the head, and He said that the beast would rise from the sea to live again.  Sounds exactly like the resurrection of Usama bin Laden.  Don't you think?”

     “Well, I doubt …”

    “You know, you accuse me of being all-knowing?  Fine.  Let me tell you something I don’t understand …”

     Nasir did not interrupt.  He had his guest riled and engaged and hopefully on the verge of saying something foolish enough to disparage himself.

     “I didn’t write the Qur’an or the hadiths.  I didn’t write the of Book of Revelation.  I'm not asking anyone to believe anything that wasn't already told to us long ago.  All I did was predict the second-coming of Usama bin Laden.  And all I'm trying to do is show people how these prophecies are coming true before our eyes.  But still, no one takes me seriously.  No.  According to some people, I'm the antichrist.  Go figure!”

     Nasir did not become a well-respected journalist by asking the easy questions.  “You say people aren’t taking you seriously, but that’s exactly the problem.  They are.  When Usama bin Laden came back, people all over the Arab world took to the streets in prayer. But since you've come along, protests, sometimes violent protests have broken out all across the world – all because you are convincing people that the world is coming to an end.  People are getting hurt because of you.  Do you even accept responsibility for that?”

     “Of course, I do!  I take fu … fu … full responsibility for my actions!  But you act as if I t… told people to start panicking and looting and vandalizing.  If people actually read the book, they'd see that it's exactly the opposite.  Th… the whole purpose of the book was to promote peace and goodwill, and to rally people to a common cause – to change the world!  Usama bin Laden’s taken over the entire region.  But do any of us give a damn?  No!

     “As long as they're not blowing up any of our people, most of us couldn't care less what happens in the Middle East.  Those of us who do care are either blind to what bin Laden really is, or we're so caught up in the end of the world that we don't care who we step on to try to save ourselves.  So much for all those lessons God taught us about loving thy neighbor, huh?!”

     “To be fair,” Nasir interjected, “none of this panic started until you came along.  This is your doing.”

     Elijah did not bark back at Nasir this time.  Rather, he took a deep breath.  “Well, you can blame whoever you want.  I like to think that we’re all responsible.  But unfortunately for me, you’re also right.  None of this chaos began until I showed up.”

     At least he owns up to it.

     “That's a burden I have to live with when I turn on the news and see shit like the woman in North Carolina that got trampled the other day at one of those protests.  The way I see it, that's on me.  I have to live with that guilt.  … But at the same time, I’m reminded of a fact that I've had to learn all too well – that doing right by God doesn't always mean doing right in the eyes of others. 

     “Since all this began, I've alienated my family.  I've neglected my friends.  I've hurt the people I care about the most.  I've given up everything for the sake of doing right by God, and as thanks for that I've been called a liar, a narcissist, a fraud, the antichrist … reckless and irresponsible.

     “I wish you could understand what I go through.  I wish anyone could understand.  Maybe then I wouldn't feel so lonely.  But no, when I turned on the news the other night and saw that woman dead on the streets, I was devastated.  I did that.  But the only comfort I get to feel is knowing that I’m only doing what God asks of me.”

     Now you admit it!  With an outpouring of sarcasm, Nasir pounced at the opportunity to mock his guest’s admission of divine influence.  “Well, that must be some comfort – to know that God makes it okay for you to scare people – to terrorize them.  Because God talks to you.  Of all the people in this world, He talks to someone who can’t even tell us what verse of the Bible he’s referencing.  And how does God talk to you?  That's right, through angels that live in a realm made up of antimatter.  How convenient.  Maybe if we had the technology to prove …”

     The audio resonated with the loud smack of Elijah slapping his thigh again.  “That's exactly the point!  This isn't about p… pr… proving God's existence!  We’re well on our way to doing that on our own!”  He paused and calmed himself abruptly.  “You didn't need me to explain how it all works, about antimatter and dark matter and the mysteries of our existence.  But I did.  … I did it because God wants us to believe in Him.”

     “I see,” Nasir declared sharply.  “That’s what this is all about – believing.  You scare people into believing in God.” 

     Elijah scoffed.  “No.  It’s quite the opposite really.  I wrote my book to help people understand the end of the world – so we wouldn’t be afraid.  That's how you'll know a true believer these days.  Because when the shit hits the fan and everyone else is running scared, fighting and trampling each other in the streets; the believers will be the ones waiting patiently in line for their share of bread and water.  They'll be the ones who open their homes to strangers in need, instead of hoarding everything they can for themselves.”

     Nasir grew impatient with Elijah’s cussing.  “When the fit hits the shan, they'll probably be the first to perish.  And thank you for swearing on my show, again.”

     Before Elijah could respond, Nasir turned his eyes off screen while cupping a hand over one ear.  His producer told him of dreadful news.  Nasir’s stomach sank and a lump formed in his throat.

     “Um … I’m sorry folks.  I'm just learning that we must break to an emergency situation developing in Moscow.  Elijah, I apologize but we’re going to have to cut our discussion short.  We have about ninety seconds before we cut to Dave in the studio.  Do you have anything you’d like to say in closing?”

     Elijah shuffled in his seat and adjusted his tie.  His voice cracked.  “Ah, yes, thank you.”  He took a deep breath.  “I think the question we seem to be overlooking in all this, is 'Why?'  Why does God want to bring about the end of the world?  Nasir, you said we don't have the technology yet to prove God's existence.  I told you we are already well on our way.  And therein lies the problem. 

     “By unlocking the secrets of matter-based sciences we are reverse-engineering the technology God used to create the universe.  But for as smart as humanity has become, as a species, we have yet to develop the wisdom needed to be responsible with such a power.  We're a danger to ourselves and everything around us.  And if God doesn't end this world and start anew, if He allows humanity to continue to grow unchecked, then we would pose a danger to Him as well.”

     Elijah stopped.  He sniffled and wiped his nose.  His voice cracked even more.  “S… so if it were up to me, I would destroy this world too.

     “Nasir, you ask if I take responsibility for the people who have been hurt because of me.  You say I'm reckless … irresponsible.  I say you can't possibly understand how difficult my responsibilities are.  Y… you get to point your finger and say that I'm wrong.  I … I have to accept the fact that you're right.  I am responsible for all this madness on the streets.”

     As he continued to speak, it sounded as though Elijah was choking on mucus; sniffling and gasping until he began to sob like a murderer confessing his guilt in the sight of God.  “S… so you ask why, of all people, God would talk to me?  I'll tell you why.  Because I would have given up everything to save this world, but if the Lord so wishes it then I’ll smite the fuck out of this Earth just the same.”

     The feed to “Nasir’s View” was cut.  The MSNBC logo appeared onscreen, beneath it an announcement:

PLEASE STAND BY FOR BREAKING WORLD NEWS.

–          –          –          –          –

     Reports of a meteor shower in Moscow dominated the news for the next several days.  The city was almost completely obliterated: The Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral, even the Red Square.  Survivors described the scene as a 'hailstorm of fire', and within minutes of the onset, videos of the tragedy were already being posted to the web. 

     Some of the brimstones were the size of basketballs, exploding vehicles upon impact and punching holes through buildings and homes.  Some were as big as cars that ripped apart skyscrapers and cratered highways.  And yet some were miniature, no bigger than pebbles, but no less deadly when they knife through their victims like bullets through flesh.  But strangely, amidst all the destruction stood the occasional exception – a store or a house or a church which remained completely unscathed.

     The tragedy occurred so suddenly that few people had time to retreat to the city’s bomb shelters.  The fortunate died instantly.  The less fortunate found themselves trapped with nowhere to run and flames circling around or beneath them.  Thousands were buried under countless tons of twisted rebar and crumbled concrete.  And many more faced asphyxiation from the dust and debris of the rubble, as well as from smoke inhalation.

     Victims were often too mangled to identify; scorched beyond recognition or torn apart and strewn across the streets.  Those bodies had their own piles.  Anyone deemed identifiable was bagged and tagged and collected on flatbed trucks to be sorted through later.  Then there were the injuries that often went untreated as residents were trapped behind walls of fire and collapsed buildings that spilled into the roads.

     Emergency response teams came from all across the country, but it just was not enough.  There were not enough helicopters to keep up with rescue efforts.  There was not enough manpower to keep up with the rampant blazes that raged day and night.  And there certainly were not enough supplies to keep up with the hoards of the ailing and needy.

     People in emergency shelters fought in line for rations, pushing and kicking for the last jug of water or the last jar of peanut butter.  In the scramble to survive, some people were even stabbed or beaten to death by their fellow victims.  Of course, President Alexei Vaschenko and most of his Council of Ministers were fine, airlifted with their families to safety the moment the sky stopped falling.  But as news coverage ran on from morning to evening and back to morning again, another story gained momentum within the media, capturing the fears of millions watching from home.

–          –          –          –          –

     “Good evening and welcome to 'Nasir's View' on MSNBC.  My name is Nasir Bahar.  When news broke yesterday of the tragedy in Moscow, we were speaking with the mysterious author of the supposedly new scripture that’s gone viral on the internet these last several days.  His name is Elijah and he calls himself the Good Shepherd’s Keeper.  What we were unaware of at the time was that just prior to the start of our interview, a message was posted to his website.  I’d like to share that message with you now.”

     Unlike the prior day, Nasir was neither dismissive nor combative.  He read the post like one might read the obituaries, his tone somber and controlled and lacking passion.

“’Woe! Woe be upon ye, for the day of the Lord is upon us!  How great and very terrible it will be to reign in this new era of prophecy.  Oppressed are thee, all ye of Syria, for ye hath fallen slave to the army of evil, an army funded by evil. 

’Alexei Vaschenko, you sold nuclear material to Iran under strict violation of the United Nations.  You sold weapons to an army fighting against an army to whom you have also sold weapons.  For years you have reaped a profit from the deaths of the innocent.  And now you’ve sold a nation ever further into the depths of misery and desperation, and in doing so you’ve allowed the army of darkness to take foothold on the doorstep to the Promised Land.

“’You think you can hide from the world in your luxurious palace and in your bulletproof limousine.  You think you can hide behind your nuclear arsenal like you are god to say who shall die.  But you can’t hide from me.

“’O Lord I pray you recompense thee who prey upon the meek.  Let the night sky glow; let the sky bleed red; let fire rain down on top of their heads.  As they scatter and as they flee, let them know that it was I who called forth the sulfur for the whole world to see.

“’Lest, let it not be the wicked, O' Lord, who shall perish.  No.  For in this hell shall they rule.  Lord, bless thee of grace as I pray that you take us away from this place.  And I pray, O' Lord, that those who remain shall find the courage and the wisdom to see our victims not as those we lost, but rather as those who were saved.  I pray this to you, my Lord, as your humble servant and keeper.  Amen.’”

     Nasir paused and stared into the camera.  A tear rolled down his cheek and a lump formed in his throat.  He swallowed it down; with it his pride.  “I wish I had words to express to you how I feel about this, folks.  But all I can offer are my prayers.  May God have mercy on us all.”