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Category: Short Stories

A SHORT STORY: And Then There Was One by Lorilyn Roberts

Timothy 4:7 (NKJV)

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

When Elan entered college, Friedrich Nietzsche was one of his heroes. In fact, at one time, Elan thought Nietzsche was a genius—until he read what he said about free will. Elan reached a crisis point as a philosophy student when he couldn’t accept the beliefs of those he once admired. The 20-year-old believed that humans were free to make choices. He did not think that everything he accomplished in life was the result of some ethereal force that might be capricious or fickle.  

“Free will must exist,” Elan argued with his atheist friends, but where was that boundary between free will and pre-determinism? 

When Elan heard Christians talking about free will, he thought they might know something that he didn’t. The college student spent the next two years studying the Scriptures and became a Christian, to the shock of many. Not only did he confess Jesus as his Savior, but he was determined to go to graduate school and become a pastor or theologian. 

One afternoon during his senior year, his pastor called him. “Elan,” he said, “I received a letter in the mail addressed to you that says ‘confidential’ on the envelope.” 

“Who is it from?” 

“There’s no return address, but I don’t think it’s junk mail.”

A pause ensued as Elan mentally checked off several names of friends who might have sent him something in jest, but he dismissed them. All of his friends texted when they wanted to communicate. 

“I’ll come to the church now,” Elan said.

He made the ten-minute drive in only five. When he arrived, the secretary hurried him into the pastor’s office. 

Pastor Lehman was an older man close to retiring and had played an integral role in Elan’s life following his conversion. After the perfunctory greetings, the pastor handed him the envelope. Elan opened it with a bit of sweat on his brow, but to his surprise, there was no writing on the stationery. As disappointment set in, he heard a voice inside his head. 

“Elan, you have a dinner appointment this Friday at 6:00 p.m. at the Fountainhead Restaurant. Two messengers will greet you when you arrive. They will recognize you even if you don’t know who they are. Will you be there?”

“Yes!” 

“Yes—what?” Pastor Lehman asked. 

For an instant, the college student forgot where he was. He stared at the blank invitation in his hand. Still somewhat shaken, he handed him the letter.

Pastor Lehman looked at it. “It’s just a blank sheet of paper.”

“I know,” said Elan. “I heard a voice asking me if I could come to dinner at the Fountainhead Restaurant Friday at 6:00 p.m. The voice said two messengers would greet me even though I may not know them. I said I would be there.”

* * *

Friday arrived, and at the appointed time, Elan, dressed in his Sunday best, walked up the sidewalk to the Fountainhead Restaurant. Two men in white robes appeared at the entrance, and Elan, with his heart pounding and more than a drop of perspiration on his forehead, shook their hands.

The messengers, whether angelic or human, Elan wasn’t sure, ushered him inside. The sweet aroma of fresh bread filled his nostrils, and the beaded sweat on his forehead evaporated in the coolness of the air. Hues of various intensities filtered through the restaurant, radiating beauty like exquisite gems, and the view through the windows reflected nothing he had ever seen. The restaurant seemed to be floating in the clouds. 

One messenger escorted Elan to a table where three other young men sat. Each one introduced himself by his first name, Bill, David, and John. Elan took a seat beside them and engaged them in conversation. “Are you guys from around here?” 

“Where is here?” Bill asked. 

Elan chuckled. “That’s a good question.” 

Hungry folks filled the restaurant, some older, some younger, and some—well, they seemed ageless. As the young men talked, Elan learned they were also college students and new Christian converts. None lived near him in Florida. Bill was from California, David was from Texas, and John lived in Rhode Island. 

Soon a waiter brought them water and bread, and they engaged in conversation about their goals. Like Elan, they were driven to achieve great things for Christ. After a while, when Elan looked at his watch, he couldn’t believe an hour had passed. 

At that moment, one of the messengers reappeared, and his mysterious words prompted more unanswered questions. 

“You have just eaten manna from heaven and tasted living water. When you leave, do many good works. If you remain faithful—perhaps many years from now—you’ll meet again for the second course.” 

“Good works?” Elan asked. “You mean—like in a Christian sense?”

The messenger nodded. “Good works are what you do—feeding the poor, sharing the Good News, serving in church, teaching the Bible—all those things you long to do in your heart now. The devil wants to steal your hunger for the Lord. Only three of you will return for the second course.” 

The college students exchanged glances. Elan felt a lump in his throat. Would he return? Or would he succumb to the world’s temptations or be led astray?

* * *

Elan finished college and went to seminary. While in seminary, he fell in love with the school librarian, and the couple married when Elan graduated. A small church hired him, and he was an associate pastor for the next two years. 

Late one night, when Elan was praying, he remembered the restaurant encounter with the two messengers. What were the other three men up to—had they been faithful in good works? So much time had passed, Elan lamented his unworthiness in God’s sight, that he had not been invited back for the second course. 

As he prayed and sought forgiveness, he heard a messenger’s voice. 

“Elan, do you hear me?” 

“Here I am.” He looked around but saw no one in his study. Even the dog was asleep.

“Go to the Fountainhead Restaurant Friday at 6:00 p.m., and I will meet you there.”

Elan thought about how far away the restaurant was from his home now. How could he even get there since he and his wife shared one car? But before he could reply, the voice spoke,

“Elan, there is a Fountainhead Restaurant in this small town.”

“I’ll be there,” Elan said, and his spirit soared. The week went by slowly. He had never shared with anyone about the previous encounter, but now he would.

His wife just smiled when Elan told her. After kissing him, she said, “You never told me you had entertained angels. Just don’t wait this time to tell me what happens.”

Elation filled Elan’s heart. Thankfully his wife didn’t think he was hallucinating. He spent the next few days in prayer, reading his Bible, and fasting. Friday night couldn’t come soon enough.

* * *

Much to Elan’s surprise, he found the Fountainhead Restaurant through an internet search, and Friday night, he arrived at the restaurant clean-shaven and wearing his Sunday best. He had even been to the barber, which greatly pleased his wife. He arrived an hour early, perhaps over-exuberant to meet the messengers. When they weren’t there, doubt crept in. Suppose he was hallucinating that night? After all, at that very moment when he heard the voice, he was lamenting not being invited back, blaming it on his many failures and doubting his worthiness.  

Before he could get too gloomy, Bill and David arrived—thirty minutes early. Did that mean John was the one who would not return?

Bill and David were all smiles, and the three young disciples of Christ exchanged handshakes and slapped each other on the back.

“Great to see you, Elan,” Bill and David said, with the unspoken acknowledgment that John would not join them.

As they were talking, two messengers in shining robes appeared. “Good evening, Gentlemen.” They escorted the young men into the restaurant and took them to a window table. 

“This special table is reserved for you,” the server said. 

Once again, the view was breathtaking. The vibrant colors of the clouds were heavenly, creating a kaleidoscope of images beyond human experience.  

The restaurant was half full, unlike last time when it was so crowded. Elan imagined what the second course might be. 

Sweet aromas filled the restaurant with delicacies he couldn’t wait to taste. The three men shared their lives over the past decade. They had all become pastors, and two were shepherding churches. Bill was a missionary to an unreached people group in Africa. 

Soon the second course arrived, and four plates of steaming hot food filled the serving tray. Who was the fourth plate for since there were only three of them?  

The messenger answered Elan’s thought. “Take what you want. John’s talents will now go to the three of you.”

The men dove into the food. Elan couldn’t remember when he had tasted such heavenly salmon. God knew his favorite entrée and fed him precisely what he would have ordered under ordinary circumstances.

When they finished, one of the messengers returned, thoughtfully gazing at the men. “The next course will be the dessert, but only two of you will be invited back.” 

Who would not return? Elan wondered. 

The messenger added, “Remember, your good works are not for salvation but rewards.”

“What happened to John?” Elan asked. “Did he lose his salvation?”

The messenger replied. “No, you can’t lose your salvation. However, if you fall away because of sin, you lose rewards. The rewards you would have earned are forfeited, and God gives the talents for those rewards to others.”  

Elan returned home, thinking about John. He had seemed so full of the Holy Spirit; he could quote Scripture better than all of them. What happened?

Many years went by. Elan served in several pastoral roles, but life was not easy in the pulpit or at home. One trial after another came his way, almost to the point he wanted to quit the pastorate. 

But his wife encouraged him. “Don’t give up,” she would say. “If you are faithful, God will reward you.” 

He tried to be a good father but felt he often failed. As he grew in the knowledge of the Lord, he often doubted that God would call him worthy of anything. Sin always seemed crouching at the door, tempting him to do wrong things. How easy it would have been to have an affair, steal money from the church, or teach only from his favorite Scriptures without digging deep and teaching from the entire Bible. 

Then one night, a voice awakened him in a dream. “Elan.” 

Elan recognized the voice and sat up in bed.

“Meet me at the Fountainhead Restaurant this Friday at 6:00 p.m.”

The family had moved two times since the previous engagement, but Elan knew there must be a Fountainhead Restaurant in the small town somewhere.

“I’ll be there,” Elan said. He was so excited he could hardly go back to sleep. He thought about waking up his wife to tell her, but she lay so peacefully beside him that he decided to wait until the morning. 

* * *

6:00 p.m. Friday arrived, and Elan showed up an hour early. His wife had taken him shopping for a new suit—which he had put off buying for years, and he had made a trip to the barber. Why? Elan wasn’t sure because he was almost bald. 

He saw that Bill was waiting, and his old friend greeted him warmly. “It’s so good to see you, Elan.” 

Elan chuckled. “I guess it’s just you and me for the dessert.”

Bill glanced around, looking for the messengers. 

Elan noted how much older Bill looked. Thirty years had passed since their first encounter when they were still college students. Maybe David had died. He had seemed so full of the spirit, so driven to serve God. Surely, he was still doing so. Of the four of them, Elan figured he would be the one to finish strong. But David wasn’t here for dessert. That meant only the two of them had a chance to end well. 

The two messengers appeared, and they again escorted them inside the restaurant. The room was almost empty, with just a few patrons eating. As before, the view was spectacular. They floated in the clouds with the stars like messengers singing songs of praise. 

The two men talked about their lives, families, and careers. Soon one of the messengers arrived with four dessert plates—including Elan’s favorite, chocolate cheesecake. The angel said, “The other two men who started with you have lost their rewards, so their talents have been passed on to you. Use them for the glory of God; at the last course, you will understand.” 

“If this is dessert,” Elan asked, “what is the last course?” 

The messenger replied. “Remember, the Bible says, ‘Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.’ Now you taste; next time, you will see.”

Elan felt sad only one of them would make it. Emboldened, he asked the obvious. “Can we not both finish strong?”

The angel studied Elan, peering into his eyes with so much love Elan’s heart melted. “You each have free will,” the messenger replied. “You can receive all the rewards God wants to give you, but the reality is, one of you will finish well, and one of you won’t. Jesus has given you salvation, but you must earn rewards.”

Elan thought back to his first two years in college when he embraced an atheistic theology and admired men like Nietzsche. How good God had been to rescue him. Later that evening, Elan prayed, “Please, Jesus, help me to finish well.”

* * *

Years passed. Elan’s two sons grew up, married, and he became a grandfather. Then his wife died, and the joy of living left him. He was old now, and the tasks of daily living were challenging. He limped, his eyes were dim, and he could no longer hear the birds singing.   

“Perhaps the angel spoke to me, and I didn’t hear,” Elan lamented. Nevertheless, he continued to live for God’s glory, more determined than ever to finish well. He no longer cared about rewards, whether he earned one or none. He only longed to see Jesus. 

Despite being weak and frail, Elan read his Bible daily and prayed. When the day came that he breathed his last, his sons were by his side. He knew this was his departure to glory, and he had never shared with them his religious experience. And so he shared the story with his sons.

“I guess I wasn’t found worthy,” Elan said. “I never heard from the messenger again. Even though I won’t receive any rewards, I’m okay with that. All I want is Jesus.”

His older son, whose heart was tender, replied, “The last course is the real thing, Dad. Now you will ‘see’ the goodness of the Lord.”

Elan thought about that. Maybe his son was right, and he tried to remember the messenger’s final words.

* * *

The day of glory came, and two angels escorted Elan to his heavenly Father’s house. An unfathomable number of people filled the celestial city. As the angels led the new arrival through the eternal gates, he saw his college friend, John, way back in the sea of people. 

Elan reflected on the angel’s words. John was in heaven because Jesus paid the price for his sins. Salvation was God’s gift, but one must earn rewards. John would never be close to Jesus because he had forfeited his talents.  

The messenger escorted Elan through the heavenly city, and he passed David and Bill along the way. The blessed abode would have blinded him without spiritual eyes to see even as God’s unconditional love filled his reborn spirit. The freshness of heaven’s rarified air and the angelic voices praising the Father were just glimpses of perfection. So much more awaited discovery. Oh, the magnitude of what he would have missed if it weren’t for Jesus’ death on the cross and his triumphant resurrection. When Elan neared the last course, he saw his risen Savior. Overcome with emotion, he worshiped. 

The King of Kings walked over to Elan and welcomed him. “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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A SHORT STORY: Counterfeit by Lorilyn Roberts

2 Thessalonians 2:9 (NKJV)

The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders…

The leaders of the New World Order sat eating lunch in the new Hanging Gardens of Babylon designed by Kai, a renowned horticulturist. Surrounded by tropical ferns, prickly succulents, meandering vines, and exotic flowers, they chatted about secret matters of which the commoners had no knowledge. Kai knew their secrets because the garden he created was their favorite hangout. He noted that while the rest of the world ate green—they ate meat and other delicacies he couldn’t even identify. 

The globalists valued Kai’s knowledge only to satisfy their selfish ambitions. Kai was not significant except for his horticultural expertise, and he was ordered to keep what he knew a secret. That wasn’t hard to do in the largely deserted city. 

The plebeians, like Kai, had once been middle-class citizens. “Own nothing, and you’ll be happy,” the World Economic Forum touted. The globalists convinced the masses that a virtual world would be far more pleasant than the future world, which would not include animal meat, living in big houses, or driving gasoline-powered cars. 

“We must ensure depopulation to meet sustainability. The future of humankind depends on our sacrifice,” the elite claimed. 

As Kai thought about their lies, he suppressed his anger only to perform his job. Then he would go home, turn on the computer, and escape. His virtual reality consisted of dozens of gardens worldwide. He had the benefit of both worlds—but was it a blessing or a curse? 

Kai lamented. The masses probably couldn’t even remember the fragrance of a rose. Living in ghost towns because of population depletion, they would return home each day from monotonous factory jobs, plug themselves into the computer, and escape into a virtual existence. 

One of the guests waved his hand to get Kai’s attention. 

Kai walked over. “Can I help you?” 

The man nodded. “Yes, I would like more wine.”

Kai went to the bar. As he poured the drink, he saw his daily visitor, a white dog, eating some elderberries nearby. He had recently noticed the white dog limping, but today the animal seemed better. Kai knew the berries were good for inflammation, but how did the animal know that? The world-renowned horticulturist knew almost everything about every plant species and had planted medicinal specimens in the garden. Therapeutic drugs were only for the elite, but Kai knew of the healing powers in the leaves of plants. 

After serving the wine, Kai returned to tending the garden. His mind wandered as he imagined some divine being speaking everything into existence. Now that God had given him this unique position, he made it his goal to protect every green thing he had painstakingly planted. 

But there was a cost. Kai lived a lonely life. He knew too many “secrets.” They would liquefy him if he shared that secret knowledge. The uncomfortable truth was that isolation caused by multiple pandemics created a lifestyle where commoners lived alone. Things didn’t go well for those who complained. Liquefaction was how they eliminated humans who were troublemakers.

The white dog came over to Kai, and Kai leaned down to pat him on the head. “I should give you a name,” Kai said, “but if I do, I will love you too much.” He feared the elite would discover the animal and remove him from the garden. So Kai maintained his distance emotionally but longed to embrace the dog’s love. 

It was almost time for the rich rulers to depart, and Kai would close the garden and head home, eat his veggie meal, enjoy his allotted wine, and hook himself up to his computer. Before going to bed, he would enjoy a few hours in the gardens he had virtually designed.

Seeing that the dog no longer limped lifted Kai’s spirits. He ran his hand along the dog’s back. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.” Kai glanced in the direction of the restaurant guests. “Now go hide. They’ll leave soon, and I don’t want them to see you.”

The dog brushed up against his legs and ran off. Kai smiled. The garden was not only a getaway for the globalists, but there were a few animals that had survived the war, and they made their homes here, too. 

* * *

Later that evening, Kai parked before his computer, and his 3-D virtual reality sprung to life. Kai enjoyed traversing the gardens worldwide—gardens that no longer existed. Pollution, war, and plagues had decimated the grasslands and forests. His virtual world was the blueprint for recreating those gardens.

Tonight, though, his interest was superficial. Kai thought about the white dog who lived in the natural garden. The botanist yanked off the headphones and removed the 3-D glasses. Was this how he would live the rest of his life? If given a choice, which world would be better? No beauty existed now, no gardens—except the one he designed.

Virtual reality wasn’t freedom; it was bondage. Despite Kai’s preeminent position, he knew he would always be inferior to the globalists. They only wanted his knowledge.  

What would he give to have the old world back? With its realness came love, joy, and the travails of experiential living, even if it was messy and unpredictable, at times, even painful. But sameness was dull. A virtual reality contained nothing but figments of one’s imagination. Without realism, nothing was real—especially a virtual world that didn’t exist.

* * *

The next day Kai went to the garden, and the white dog greeted him as usual. His appearance was reassuring, and Kai rewarded him with a treat. Afterward, the dog disappeared into the woods. Kai figured he wouldn’t see him as much with his leg healed. That made him sad, but it also kept his best friend safe.  

That afternoon, a truck pulled up to the garden gate. Kai saw an unusual tree in the cargo bed—a tree he could not identify. “I didn’t order this tree,” Kai said. 

The delivery man handed him the purchase order. 

Kai glanced at the paperwork. “I don’t know this person.” He watched as the delivery man set the tree on the curb, and then he left. Kai examined the tree’s leaves. He knew every tree on the planet, or almost, and he did not recognize the species. 

Later in the afternoon, Kai’s boss arrived. “I bet you are wondering about the tree?”

Kai nodded, “Yes. I don’t recognize the species.”

“It’s a brand-new creation, developed in the laboratory by our top scientists. The tree has a triple helix.”

Kai blinked. “What?”

His boss laughed. “You heard me. Scientists have improved the double helix design and can’t wait to propagate the tree. They selected this garden as the trial site because of your expertise. As you know, there are only a few gardens left. You must be thrilled.”

Kai was speechless. Finally, he muttered, “I will keep you apprised.” 

His boss seemed pleased. “Good. You’re an excellent record keeper, which is another reason why the elitists chose you. If this tree thrives, the geneticists plan to create hundreds of new species with the triple helix design. Perhaps it will replace all double helix life forms.” 

After a few more disturbing comments, Kai’s boss left. Kai walked over to the triple helix. Sadness filled the gardener’s heart. He had poured his life into what he hoped would regenerate the wastelands of the world, and his garden was about to be destroyed by an invasive, artificial species.

As he moved the tree to a more permanent location, his boss returned. “I forgot to mention, scientists created the tree in the lab under low light conditions, so be gentle with the sunlight.” 

“Okay,” Kai said. 

As his boss requested, he moved the tree away from the others into the shadows. He also didn’t want to contaminate the habitat if it had any parasites or diseases. He set up a file for the tree, meticulously entering the data into the computer.

Three days passed. Kai checked the tree each day. But he noticed when he was near it that it felt like the tree was watching him, or was it just his imagination? 

He also noted that the white dog would not go near the triple helix tree. He went out of his way to give a wide berth to it. And the trees next to the triple helix were no longer thriving. Fallen leaves littered the ground leaving some of the branches bare. Concerned, Kai moved the triple helix farther away to protect the precious trees he had raised from saplings. 

Nighttime approached, and Kai was running late. As he made his final round in the darkening garden, the dog was reluctant to accompany him. Usually, the white dog followed Kai, wagging his tail, as Kai checked on plantings and secured the building. Kai shrugged. Maybe his leg was bothering him again. 

When he checked the triple helix, he noticed something odd. What was that dark strand on the trunk of the tree? He approached it to get a better look, and something lunged out at him and bit him on the cheek.”

Kai writhed in pain. Petrified, he watched as a snake slithered up the trunk. The third strand of the tree’s DNA was a snake!

Horror filled him as the pain increased. He ran his finger over the injury, and blood covered his fingertips. He hurried inside the building to examine the puncture wound. When he looked in the mirror, relief filled his mind. The fang mark was small and shouldn’t be noticeable in a couple of days. But how much poison had entered his body? He knew the snake was venomous because whatever the globalists did was toxic. Did the dog know something he didn’t know? 

He walked outside looking for his four-legged friend, but the dog wasn’t around. Who would believe him if he shared what happened? 

“A tree bit you?” they would scoff. 

“No, a snake. The snake was part of the tree—part of the triple helix…” He couldn’t even put it into words. 

Every horrid thought entered his mind. He sat on the ground with a cloth covering his bleeding cheek. If they fired him for insanity, where would he go? Nobody needed a gardener because there were no gardens on the planet. Spending hours each day in a virtual world hooked up to a computer was a different kind of death—and not the way Kai wanted to spend the end of his days. 

Maybe God, who created the plants, trees, and flowers that he so dearly loved, was punishing him for entertaining powerful people who claimed to be gods. 

“Oh, God, please have mercy on me.” But Kai heard nothing. He had never been a religious person anyway. Perhaps the Creator had gone to another universe to start over, but would a loving God abandon his creation? Surely he wasn’t that fickle.

Besides, Kai wanted to preserve God’s marvelous handiwork. Otherwise, the remnant he cherished would become extinct by a concoction that Frankenstein scientists dreamed up in a lab. 

Unexpectedly, he felt the presence of something nearby. At first, he was terrified, but when Kai looked up, he saw the white dog standing beside him. Relieved, he reached over and wrapped his arm around his neck, clinging to him as if his life depended on it. Then the dog pulled away, ran a short distance, and arched back, wagging his tail. 

“He’s coaxing me to follow him,” Kai said. He remembered the direction the dog was leading him—to the elderberries. He stood. The elderberries had healed the dog. Perhaps the berries could heal him.

He followed the dog, wondering how many elderberries he should eat, but after consuming a handful, he fell into a deep sleep. The following day, when he awoke, he was surprised he felt no lingering effects from the bite. He promised God as he began gardening, “there will be no triple helix plantings in this garden as long as I am the gardener.” The question was, how could he destroy the tree that tried to kill him without getting caught? 

An idea entered his mind. What was it, his boss said—expose the tree gradually to sunlight. What if he did it quickly? What if he burned the tree in the sunlight? 

He wasted no time moving the triple helix to the brightest spot in the garden. He would also deprive the tree of nutrients and water. 

Then he had another thought. He would hang a bright light over the tree at night after the sun went down. That way, the tree never saw darkness, and the third strand of the helix would have to endure unrelenting light. With no reprieve, the snake couldn’t hide in the shadows, striking anything that came near. He was exposed now—a snake that wanted to substitute God’s perfection with his counterfeit. 

After a couple of weeks, the tree died, much to Kai’s delight. He made careful readings of the tree’s demise, and the snake disappeared into the tree, never to be seen again.  

The scientists brought more trees, and they died, too, because of Kai’s expertise. After a time, the scientists gave up and moved on to other projects. For now, the garden was safe under the care of Kai and the man’s best friend. But who knew for how long?1

To read more stories like this one, visit Amazon and purchase The Night Cometh: 20 Fantastical Stories

1 Reedsyprompts. Submitted to Contest #161 in response to: Write a story where someone finds comfort in an unexpected event, place, or person. http://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/author/lorilyn-roberts/

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A SHORT STORY: Rarer Than the Gold of Ophir by Lorilyn Roberts

“Why do you strike the fish above the eyes,” Emma asked her dad.

Jace remembered what he said to his beautiful daughter those many years ago. “That’s a good question, Emma. The reason is that you want to stun the fish into unconsciousness so when you bleed him out, he doesn’t suffer.”

“Oh,” she said as she watched.

His wife edged over to Emma. “There’s no need to traumatize her,” and she redirected Emma’s attention elsewhere.

Emma was only ten then, and it was her first fishing trip. Kate, his wife, had reluctantly agreed to go. She wasn’t the outdoor type, but Jace, having no sons, hoped to instill the value of living off the land into his daughter before she grew up and a lucky man stole her heart. Sometimes he would say to her when she was a teenager, “I hope your future husband loves hunting and fishing.”

Kate was right. Jace had performed the bludgeoning act so often that he didn’t even think about it. After throwing the unconscious fish into the ice cooler, the survivalist steered his new Stealth 210 aluminum crappie boat to the dock on Lake Istokpoga. After a successful day fishing, he remembered how he looked forward to eating crappie for the next week. Nostalgia swept over him. That seemed so insignificant now.

As Emma grew up, Jace made sure she had a survivalist mentality. “You never know what the future holds,” he would say. “Better be prepared for anything.”

Kate, his wife, wasn’t the least bit interested. She was only interested in the Bible regarding those topics. She would tell him, “I trust the Lord to take care of us,” and Jace would reply, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”

What if Jace had known then what he knew now? What would he have said to her?

But Jace was a pragmatist. All the religions in the world wouldn’t put food on the table, and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see food shortages were coming. Grudgingly, Kate agreed to stock up on food and other necessities just in case the worst scenario unfolded. Still, Jace reasoned, as long as they had the 27,000-acre lake stocked with crappie, the family should never go without food.

In return, Kate asked Jace to go to church. Jace kept his part of the bargain for several years, but when the church started teaching about the rapture, he and Kate had a blow-up. “Nowhere in the

Bible does the word ‘rapture,’ appear,” Jace said, and he quit attending church.

While dismissing his wife’s urgings to read the Bible and pray, Emma was different. “You need Jesus,” she would say. “Suppose the rapture happens. You might have a lot of skills and be able to survive all seven years of the tribulation, but you don’t have to go through it if you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins.”

Jace had replayed those memory tapes in his head ad nauseum. Now he couldn’t stop them. They ran on autoplay. His focus returned to the present as he reached his destination. The last time he was here, a small stream percolated through the sandy forest. Now it was just a barren wasteland hemmed in with dead, bearded trees from lack of rain.

He sighed. He had spent the last three years in the Ocala National Forest after he lost his home because he couldn’t pay the property taxes. “The water table must be near zero,” he mused. The rains had been sparse for a year or more. Where would he go for water?

Depression sank into his soul. He was in this predicament because of the choices he had made. Now those conversations, a distant memory, tortured him. Jace trusted his skills as a survivalist with total disregard for the Bible.

The media and globalists blamed the disappearance of millions of people worldwide on aliens who came in UFOs and “beamed” them up. They said the aliens took all the bad people and left the good people behind.

Why did he listen to those liars? His wife and daughter weren’t bad people. He believed the news headlines for a long time, but eventually, he started to ask questions. Did that make sense? He had been duped, like an ostrich with his head in the sand.

Since Emma and Kate’s disappearance, the hour hand of time swept faster as the days and nights decreased in length. While it bothered Jace not knowing what day, month, or year it was, the speeding up of time was the least of anyone’s problems. People made it whatever day they wanted, just like they made up everything else.

Jace stared at the empty riverbed. Where had all the water gone? The dead trees made him sad because so many creatures had called the forest their home. Soon a sandy desert would reclaim the land.

It was so subtle and bizarre how it all began. Jace returned from work to an empty house one day, turned on the news, and heard the headlines.

“Do not panic,” the religious guru said. “We’ve been tracking the skies with the VATT telescope at Mt. Graham, Arizona. Our observatory in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, is in contact with astronomers, and our  sources have assured us everything is going as planned.”

“What does that mean?” a reporter asked. “Millions have disappeared.”

“We should know by tomorrow what the aliens’ demands are, but we’re confident their intentions are peaceful. They wanted to remove all the troublemakers on the planet to allow a more peaceful coexistence for those left behind.”

The interview lasted a while, but Jace tuned it out. Were they really aliens? Where was the evidence? Or was this the rapture? Which story was more believable?

At first, Jace believed what the government said. The media seemed so sincere; after all, they had all the facts, right? What did the aliens want?

Because of the speeding up of time, Jace began to mark on paper each night he slept, but there were so many Xs now he didn’t bother to count them. However, if he had to guess, he would say it was eight years since the day millions disappeared.

As the pain of surviving intensified, memories of Emma and Kate became more dream-like, and every time he thought about them, he sunk into a cavernous depression. Great effort and skill were the only ways to survive in a world without adequate food and water, and his depressed state of mind made it harder.

Initially, after the disappearances, life was relatively easy and calm, perhaps to give people time to grieve for their loved ones, but that didn’t last long. Soon a reset took place. A one-world government took control of all the countries and implemented a digital currency. That was how they controlled people, initially, through a phone app. Control was at the core of the globalists’ agenda. Then they wanted the app inside of people. Once they rolled out the mark of the beast, hell followed. There was no other way to describe it; eight nightmarish years steeped in persecution, suffering, and torture.

It began with destroying Bibles. They wanted anything of a religious nature on the internet purged, like Christian blogs, devotionals, stories, and testimonials.

Then the burning of print books began. It was easier to burn all books than to sort through those that were Christian and those that weren’t. Jace’s wife had purchased many religious texts, and Jace, being a good citizen of the New World Order, purged every book from the house and took them to the tax collector’s office. The collection center reimbursed his property taxes for the following year, which allowed him to keep his home a while longer. When he lost his job selling boats, he couldn’t pay the mortgage or taxes.

He asked himself, “What would I give to have that Bible I gave to the tax collector?” Everything he once treasured, like his boat, was in a trash heap somewhere. The water was gone, so nobody needed a boat. “Meaningless, meaningless,” Jace muttered.

He remembered when pastors preached about survival, it was a different kind of survival, called salvation. Specific trigger words were forbidden in this new world, like saying, “Jesus.” 5G listening devices were everywhere, so if you uttered his name, drones would come after you. Jace had seen what the drones did to people. It was impossible to talk about God, listen to a sermon, or read Scripture. Even if you quoted a Bible passage in the privacy of your home, somehow, the globalists knew.

Jace couldn’t remember when the worst part began, but when it did, everything changed. Without the mark, you couldn’t function in society. It was worse than the infamous ESG scores in China. These new ESG scores functioned on steroids. The drones hunted down everyone who refused to receive the mark and killed them. And that’s when Jace knew the truth. Emma was right. Aliens had not taken them; God raptured them. That was when Jace fled into the Ocala National Forest.

While Jace embraced some Biblical truths, he wasn’t sure about others. He knew the mark of the beast was true. He had lived through that nightmare. Emma warned him, “If you get left behind, don’t take the mark.” But could everything else in the Bible regarding prophecy be true?

Jace sat beside the dried-up riverbed feeling useless and unimportant. Who cared if he died? The survivalist set up his tiny one-person tent and crawled into his sleeping bag. What would he give for running water, a cup of coffee, and some decent food? Fortunately, in Florida, there were insects, dandelions, and succulents to eat when the hunger pangs became overwhelming.

His mental funk was debilitating, so Jace crawled out of his sleeping bag and set up his small ham radio and antenna. He had charged the solar panels earlier. The radio was his only link to the outside world. He turned the dial to listen, but there was nothing except static.

Jace had not seen a human being or heard anyone’s voice on the radio in months. It had been a shorter time since he heard someone sending Morse Code, but he didn’t have his straight key to reply to the sender—it quit working a long time ago—and it probably would have been stupid to respond anyway. The government would have tracked down the signal, and since he didn’t have the mark, a drone would have sought him out and killed him.

Still, hearing CW on the radio assured him that at least one other human being was alive. The CW operator sent CQ, CQ, CQ, followed by his call sign and the words, “I haven’t seen anyone in over a year.”

Jace thought about the fish he used to catch. Unlike their quick end, he felt himself bleeding out, painfully, a little bit at a time, aware that there was nothing he could do to stop it.

That night, he dreamed he was in a desert and desperately needed water. When all hope seemed lost, an oasis of percolating water shot up from the sands. “Oh, if I could only reach it,” he whispered, but he was too weak. As he lay in the sand, breathing his last, water droplets edged closer. When he reached out to touch one, an unfamiliar sound startled him.

He got up on his haunches and looked out the tent. Was he dreaming? Next to the dried-up riverbed, a man was cooking fish over an open fire. Jace recognized the smell of crappie. Should he stay hidden in the tent or meet the visitor?

It didn’t take him but a few seconds to decide. The smell of fresh fish on the open fire was a lure he couldn’t resist, and to see another human being was surreal.

He stepped out of the tent, speaking as he approached the fisherman, “Hi, I’m Jace.”

The man looked up and motioned, “Sit, and I will give you fish.”

The visitor had deep-set brown eyes with a head covering framing his face, and he wore a white robe tied around the waist. His clothing was not American, although his Floridian accent was familiar. Right now, Jace didn’t care about any of that. All he cared about was food.

The man handed Jace a large container of water, and Jace drank every last ounce of it. Then he felt guilty. He should have saved some for the man who offered it to him.

The stranger gave Jace all the fish, saving none for himself. When Jace was full, the foreigner said, “You’ve been in this wasteland for five years. The remnant of believers in Florida might be a thousand—if I include you in that count.”

He seemed to be hinting at Jace’s indecisiveness. While he had not received the mark as described in the Bible, neither had he fully embraced Jesus as his savior. Jace was a survivalist.

“The word of God is even rarer than the remnant,” the visitor shared. “There might be a thousand Bibles hidden away in the United States—in strange places, but none near you.”

“Who are you?” Jace asked.

The stranger didn’t answer his question but asked Jace one. “Remember your dream?”

Jace nodded, perceiving the man must be an angel in disguise.

“I gave you spring water for your physical thirst, but what about your spiritual thirst?”

“What do you mean?” Jace asked, but he knew the answer before he even asked the question.

The angel replied, “I must go. Even though the days have been cut short, two years remain.”

Jace threw his hands in the air. “Two years of this living hell?”

The supernatural creature nodded.

“This is how it all ends?” Jace asked again.

The angel shook his head. “No, Jace, this is not how it all ends. “The Lord wants to give you living water. The water I gave you is only temporary. It’s passing away. You need the living water of salvation.” Your wife and daughter have prayed unceasingly for you.”

Jace knew the angel’s purpose was singular, and God’s patience must be running out. When Jace drank the spring water, he saw the goodness of the Lord in the desert of death.

“Will I survive two more years?” Jace asked. “Will I make it? Please tell me.”

The angel seemed saddened that Jace asked the question. “Exercise your free will.”

Could he survive two more years? Did he even want to?

Jace bowed and uttered the words that would change his life for eternity. “Today is the day of salvation. I believe, Jesus, I believe. Please give me living water for my spiritual thirst.”

When the new believer looked up from his encounter with God, the visitor from beyond the grave was gone.

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A SHORT STORY: The Gatekeeper by Lorilyn Roberts

Ivan, the gatekeeper, summoned the young lad, Leonid Portnoy. Having just turned 21, Leonid was now considered an adult according to the village’s laws.

The majestic sun hung over Ivan’s shoulder as he stood next to the gate. Gently rolling hills and pleasant valleys surrounded the obscure town. At an undisclosed location, it was the only city in the world where people didn’t have to work if they didn’t want to, and everything was provided to its residents for free.

Hidden City would remain hidden as long as Ivan was its gatekeeper. For decades, he had protected the village. As the oldest living resident, Ivan didn’t know everyone in the village, but everyone without exception knew Ivan. And while his life was coming to an end, he had never shared the secret to his longevity.

A stranger visited Ivan when he was young and gave him a book. Then the stranger told him some truths that made him shudder. Ivan never saw the stranger again, though he searched far and wide. After all these years, Ivan never shared what the stranger told him. Now, the sick man sat beside the gate with the setting sun at his back. How many more days would he be able to perform his duties? He had summoned Leonid Portnoy to appear before him. Where was he? The perfumed flowers along the fence lifted his spirits. Ivan glanced at his watch and massaged his fingers to warm them. So much to say, Ivan mused, but so little time.

The hour was late, and Ivan admitted he had a sense of dread. Perhaps Leonid got off work late. Maybe he didn’t see the summons. Life changed for all the young people in Hidden City when they turned 21. A house and car were awarded to each resident if he had been a good citizen. Money didn’t exist. If a person wanted something, all she had to do was request it, and in 30 days, she received it—free of charge.

Many thought Hidden City was just folklore. But almost everyone who believed it existed wanted to live there. A few souls knew its location, but entry was forbidden under the penalty of death.

By contrast, nobody from Hidden City ever wanted to leave. Why would they? Everyone was rich, could have whatever they wanted, and never went without food.

Ivan began to cough and reached into his robe pocket for a throat lozenge. He hoped to silence the cough before Leonid arrived when he would need to talk. The ongoing cough was a reminder of the progression of his disease. He would not escape the ravages of its curse despite outliving everyone else in Hidden City.

But at last, Ivan saw Leonid approaching in the distance.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Leonid said as he neared. “I stopped by the store on the way home. Only when I arrived did I see the summons.”

Ivan waved his hand dismissively. “No problem, Leonid.” Ivan pulled up a chair and pointed. “Please, have a seat. I have some business to discuss with you.”

Leonid complied immediately. “Am I in trouble?”

Ivan laughed. “Of course not. You are one of the most trusted young men, and…”

Relief crossed the lad’s face that the gatekeeper wasn’t going to reprimand him, but when Ivan stopped midsentence, Leonid leaned in. He didn’t want to miss something important.

Ivan bit his lip, unsure of how much he should tell Leonid. There was no guarantee the young lad would agree to his business proposition, and if he didn’t agree, the information he shared could put Leonid at risk.

*~*~*

Leonid’s life had not been easy. Both of his parents died before he turned twelve, so he had been raised by various families in the village. That was typical because most people died before age thirty. If someone lived to forty, that was unusual. Leonid didn’t know how old Ivan was, but the fact that he had white hair made him seem ancient to the lad. Ivan had no power beyond his duties as gatekeeper, but his old age earned him great respect.

Leonid’s thoughts returned to the present. Why had Ivan summoned him out of the thousands who lived in the city? He anxiously waited for Ivan to finish his sentence. Soon the sun would settle below the hills. Leonid did not like walking around after dark, especially when it was such a long walk back to his apartment.

“…and what?” Leonid asked.

Ivan glanced around, perhaps making sure no one could overhear their conversation.

“Leonid,” Ivan said, “I want you to take over my duties as the gatekeeper of the village.”

Leonid stared at Ivan in disbelief. To take over the duties of gatekeeper seemed way beyond his abilities. Not that it was hard, but the prestige that went with it, the trust of the government and the people—plus it was a full-time job. Ivan’s house was beside the gate. Did that mean he would live in Ivan’s house? And what about Ivan? Did he not want to be a gatekeeper anymore?

“Why do you want to step down from being the gatekeeper?” Leonid asked. “It’s the most prestigious job in the village.”

Ivan’s eyes appeared sad to Leonid. Perhaps Leonid didn’t want to know the answer; he regretted asking the question.

But Ivan didn’t wait this time to answer. “Leonid, I’m dying. I have the cough of death, and you are the only one I trust to take the job of gatekeeper.” He waved his hand. “I know the government will find someone to replace me if you don’t accept my offer, but who knows if the appointed person might be dishonest. The outside world is very different. Money is needed to purchase things like food, cars, and gas. A greedy person who wanted to get rich could do so easily at the expense of the folks who live here and abscond with all that wealth outside the city gates.”

“What’s money?” Leonid asked. In Hidden City, everybody had plenty and needed nothing

Ivan pointed to the barbwire fence. “Beyond that fence and gate, people live a long time. They don’t die young. So supplies are limited and there isn’t enough food. Land is expensive. That’s why everybody wants to come here. They know the residents can have everything they want. However, if the government allowed visitors into the village, Hidden City would be exposed for what it is, and the landowners don’t want that to happen.”

“Has anybody ever left Hidden City?” Leonid asked.

Ivan shook his head. “Anybody can leave, but they can never return.”

“Why is that,” Leonid asked. “I’ve never understood why.”

Ivan lifted his head toward the heavens. “Leonid, there is a cost to freedom. In Hidden City, no one is free. And although everyone’s life is shortened, the citizens have everything they need. Nobody goes without.”

Leonid’s heart focused on Ivan’s words; everyone’s life is shortened. “Why have you outlived everybody, Ivan? My parents died before they reached thirty.”

“I can answer that only if you agree to be the gatekeeper,” Ivan said.

Leonid stared across the fields outside the barbwire fence. What was out there? Leonid knew he only had two choices. He either left Hidden City forever, or he became the gatekeeper. He knew his conscience would bother him too much to turn down Ivan’s offer and remain in the village.

The truth was, Leonid had already contemplated leaving. He felt drawn to go —unlike his friends. Leonid knew the folks outside Hidden City lived longer. Once a week, supplies would arrive, and the delivery guys were often older—at least older than anybody in town. What would it be like to be free—but where would he get the money? That seemed important to the outside world, even though he didn’t know what it was.

Leonid had shared these thoughts many times with his friends and never understood why they were so disinterested. Why was he different? Finally, he replied, “Let me think about it for a day.”

Ivan nodded. He reached inside his mantle and handed something to the lad. “I want to give you this book. I want you to keep it, but don’t let anyone know you have it. It’s forbidden in the village.”

Leonid took the book from Ivan and examined it in the dim sunlight. “It’s ancient, isn’t it?”

Ivan nodded. “It belonged to the previous gatekeeper. He gave it to me before he died.”

Ivan’s words scared Leonid. “Suppose I decide that I want to leave the village? Is it forbidden”— Leonid pointed beyond the gate—”out there?”

“Only by those who hate the book,” Ivan said. “But don’t worry about that right now. Go home and read some of it. Then come back tomorrow, and we will talk some more.”

Leonid bid his new mentor farewell. He had much to think about, and the book was thick—there was no way he could read it all in 24 hours.

When he returned home, his cooked dinner was waiting for him, and the aroma whetted his appetite; he had selected his meals the previous week. Tonight he had salmon—a rare delicacy in the village—with rice, asparagus, and cheesecake for dessert.

After finishing, he made himself comfortable in his favorite chair and pulled the book out of its protective covering. On the front cover were the words, “Holy Bible.”

“So this is a holy book,” Leonid whispered. Holy books were not allowed in the village. He opened it, and written on the cover page were the words: “True freedom is spiritual. John 8:32. ‘And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

For the next few hours, Leonid read the words in the holy book. He thought about Ivan’s words, the barbwire fence surrounding Hidden City, and the gates that Ivan protected to keep outsiders from entering. As far as Leonid knew, nobody had ever left the city, but could they? And why couldn’t they return?

If freedom existed outside the barbwire fence, why would anyone want to come into Hidden City? Was it just curiosity?

But Leonid had one question the Bible didn’t answer. Perhaps it didn’t matter, but why did the residents of Hidden City die young and those beyond the barbwire fence live longer? And why had Ivan lived longer than everyone else?

That night Leonid tossed and turned in his sleep. For the first time, he felt an awakening. For years, questions had filled his mind about things that no one was allowed to talk about; could Ivan answer his questions? And if he did, would that make Leonid obligated to become the next gatekeeper?

Unexpectedly, the concept of freedom loomed large in Leonid’s mind. New insights from the Bible and Ivan’s words pricked his soul. Leonid remembered the Hidden City rulers telling the citizens they lived in paradise as special people. Was that the truth?

The lad turned on the lamp next to his bed and opened the book to re-read Ivan’s words: “…the truth will set you free.”

***

The next day at about the same time, Leonid returned to meet Ivan. Ivan appeared much older than the previous day, reminding Leonid that Ivan was sick. Leonid still didn’t know what to do, but he didn’t want to disappoint Ivan, who had chosen him to take his position.

“Greetings,” Leonid said.

“Thank you for returning,” Ivan replied. “Did  you have a chance to look at the book I gave you?”

Leonid nodded. “My eyes have been opened to things I never thought about before.”

Ivan smiled. “The truth will set you free. You can be free even here in Hidden City, where you are not free.”

Leonid pointed beyond the gates, but before he could ask his question, he saw a man approaching. “Look.”

Ivan stood to greet the outsider. “Can I help you?”

The man said, “I am a journalist, and I wanted to interview the gatekeeper of Hidden City.”

“That’s me,” Ivan said, “but I don’t do interviews. Besides, you aren’t allowed to videotape or take pictures. You can read it right there on the fence sign.”

Ivan glanced at the fence where Leonid perceived a hidden camera. “And I need to inform you, we are being watched,” Ivan added.

The man simply said, “Thank you,” and walked away.

Ivan said to Leonid, “On the fence in multiple languages is written, “No entry, no trespassing, no filming, and no photography.” That’s why I am here, to ensure the law is followed.”

Ivan began to cough, taking several minutes to get his voice back. “So what do you want to ask me, Leonid? My time is short, and I need to know tonight if you will take my position as gatekeeper. I may not live another twenty-four hours.”

It took some time for Leonid to recover after hearing this revelation. Dozens of questions swirled in his mind. Before his mentor died, Leonid needed to know the answer to one question that only Ivan could answer. “Ivan, why have you lived so long, and why does everyone else here die young?”

Ivan nodded. “Yes, I knew you would ask that. I shall tell you now as it weighs on me. Many years ago, spent nuclear waste was dumped here and contaminated the area. Certain parts of the village are more polluted than others. It depends on where you live and how much radiation exposure you receive as to how soon you will die. Those who receive the most radiation die first. Me—I never enter the village. I am the gatekeeper, and this is where I stay. I am at the rim of the exposure, on the border between where it’s safe and where it’s not. I’ve lived almost as long as those outside the village.”

Leonid’s eyes widened. “You mean we live on a nuclear waste site?”

Ivan’s countenance fell. “Yes, that’s what I mean.”

“Why would anyone want to enter this wasteland?” Leonid asked. “That doesn’t make sense. If the people of Hidden City don’t know about the pollution, then they don’t know to leave.” Suddenly, Leonid felt like all he wanted to do was get as far away as possible.

Ivan replied, “Leonid, there is a cost to being free. Throughout history, many have died in the pursuit of freedom. But some people don’t want freedom. They want to be taken care of by the government. They want possessions. They don’t want to be productive citizens. Perhaps they are lazy; perhaps they are just unmotivated. But in return, unwittingly, they receive death. A famous American once said, “Give me liberty, or give me death.’”

Leonid tried to comprehend everything Ivan told him, but his words were so packed with meaning that understanding them all at once was difficult.

“What about you, Ivan? You know all of this, yet you choose to be the gatekeeper. Why?”

“Do you remember the passage I quoted in the book?” Ivan asked.

Leonid nodded. “I memorized it. ‘True freedom is spiritual. John 8:32 ‘And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

“You see, Leonid, I am free, even though I live between two very different worlds. The freedom I have comes from the words in that book, and no government or person can take that from me.

Leonid focused on Ivan’s words as he continued.

“My home is not here; I’m just a gatekeeper. Many people pass through, and I can share these truths. That is my calling. Because I protect the gate and do my job well, people trust me, and with age comes even more respect. What’s most important is the truth in the book set me free so I can share that truth with others. If you believe the words in the book, you will be set free, too, no matter what you choose to do.”

Ivan gazed into the heavens. “Soon, I must go to the place where eternal truth resides, and I will meet the gatekeeper who died to give me eternal freedom.” Ivan paused. “Does that make sense?”

Leonid nodded. “And I bet they have no need for money in that place, do they.”

Ivan laughed. “You get it, Leonid. I knew that you would. There is no need for money. The debt to live there has already been paid.”

“By Jesus?” Leonid asked.

“That’s right,” Ivan replied.

Leonid stood and walked over to the barbwire fence. He ran his fingers along the razor-thin edge of the wire. He noticed, perhaps for the first time, the rolling hills and wildflowers clinging to the rocks in the distance. Survival was difficult where freedom reigned.

Leonid turned toward his village, studying its kempt pathways and modern structures. He contemplated his two futures. Then he faced Ivan with his decision. “My freedom comes from above. Let me take the mantle from you, and may I grow in wisdom to become as righteous as the gatekeeper who died for me.”

Ivan smiled. “Bless you, Leonid. You will make an excellent gatekeeper.”

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A SHORT STORY: It’s Not Fair by Lorilyn Roberts

 

Hope walked out of the courthouse tired and hungry. After a three-hour deposition filled with too much banter between irate lawyers, she wanted to grab a bite to eat before heading home. While 24-hour rush jobs for court reporters paid well, when unexpected, they sucked. How many times had a rush job bashed her plans for the evening? But at least tonight, she had no plans.

The quickest dinner would be takeout Chinese food. Hope went to Kung Fu near her condo and bought some orange chicken and rice. Kung Fu always added a free fortune cookie. After eating most of her meal, she opened the fortune. On a small slip of paper inside the cookie were the words, “Life is not fair.”

“What kind of fortune is that?” Hope muttered. “What does that mean?”

She thought about the clinic she drove by on the way home and the women waiting outside. Was it fair that the babies in those mothers’ wombs would never see the light of day, feel a mother’s breath on their face, or know what it was like to be loved? Hope lamented, “Those babies will die because their mothers don’t want them.”

She remembered the panhandlers who came up to her car begging for money as she sat at the red light. Had life been fair to them? Probably not. They would likely say life had not only been unfair but unkind. The idea that life wasn’t fair had never struck Hope in such a profound way.

Over the next few days, the idea of life not being fair became an obsession. She saw how hard some people worked and earned only minimum wage. Was that fair? Perhaps the workers could make more if they went to school or received training in a skill. But maybe they didn’t have the money, intelligence, or opportunity to do that.

When Hope drove by the hospital, she thought about all the patients undergoing treatment for various ailments, like cancer, heart disease, and names of diseases she couldn’t even pronounce.

One day, after succumbing to depression over her inability to understand how anyone could be happy, she went to the beach. Stashed in her bag was bread to feed the seagulls. Hope noticed one seagull was lame, but he pushed his way through the crowd of frenetic, cocky birds and snatched a couple of crumbs. His tenacity inspired Hope, and she tried harder to get the crumbs to him. When the bread was gone, the lame bird hobbled off with bread crumbs filling his happy belly.

“Maybe there is more to this ‘it’s not fair’ thing than meets the eye,” Hope said as she climbed into her car. Was it fair that the poor bird had an accident? Maybe he was in a fight. Maybe he was born that way. Did it matter how he got hurt?

Hope noted the lame seagull wasn’t sitting around feeling sorry for himself; he was surviving. He was fighting with every ounce of strength he had to make it even with all the odds stacked against him—because he lived in an unfair world.

Hope’s thoughts returned to mothers who didn’t want their babies. What chance did a helpless babe have at the scalpel of a skilled surgeon? She couldn’t be sure, but she had heard that the doctors did their deed while the baby was still alive. Once a body dies, the organs die almost immediately. Now she was more depressed. Some circumstances provided no hope and no future. It wasn’t fair. In fact, it was worse than that. It was inhumane.

Hope focused on the seagull again. Life had dealt the bird an unfair blow, but he chose to make the best of it. Was he just lucky that he had survived?

Luck of the draw, that’s what it was. How depressing, though, to believe life was nothing more than karma. Some people receive good karma, and some people receive bad karma. Hope shook her head. “No, that can’t be true. There must be something that controls the world besides karma and luck.”

The idea of life being nothing more than a series of chances bothered Hope. “So, does that mean you cast your dreams upon the waters and hope one of them comes true?” Hope shook her head again. “If that were so, that would mean life was just a chasing after the wind.”

Trying to make sense of it, Hope argued, “If everything that happens is just by chance, what difference does it make what kind of person you are? You can be a good person and have bad luck, or you can be a bad person and have good luck.”

That thought alone made Hope angry. She wanted justice, but, as the fortune cookie said, “Life is not fair.”

One day Hope decided to make a sandy butterfly way station for new monarch butterflies. She had seen the butterfly garden at Epcot and remembered how the butterflies would emerge sticky wet after undergoing a metamorphosis from the chrysalis. They would seek a place to dry off before heading into the sky on their magical journey across thousands of miles. She put sand in a dry birdbath with several small rocks. Then she put the birdbath next to where she had planted milkweed for the butterflies.

But Hope forgot about her butterfly way station in the birdbath. A few weeks later, the forgotten birdbath caught her attention. She noticed the summer rains had filled it, and no butterflies could use it because rainwater covered the rocks.

However, as she peered into the water, she saw hundreds of things moving around. What were those wiggly bugs? When she examined the tiny creatures more closely, she realized they were tadpoles. A mother frog must have found the birdbath and decided to lay her eggs there; hundreds had hatched.

What was Hope going to do with all those tadpoles? Life would be unfair to them if she dumped them on the deck. That would unkind, even cruel.

Perhaps life wasn’t just about being fair or unfair. A friend had recently died, so in honor of her friend, she wanted to release the tadpoles into a nearby lake, much like people release balloons into the sky. That would bring redemption out of sadness, save the tadpoles, and make her feel good that she did something for some tiny critters who could do nothing for themselves.

A week later, Hope took the tadpoles to the lake, said a few kind words about her friend who had passed away, and released them. A feeling of satisfaction swept over her. The tadpoles would grow into frogs—those that didn’t get eaten—and someday have baby tadpoles themselves.

And the circle of life would continue—at least for them.

Then Hope had a new revelation. The fortune cookie said life wasn’t fair, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t make a difference. Hope had a free will. She could accept the fortune cookie’s proclamation, that life wasn’t fair, and live her life in that vein, or she could choose to make the world a better place. And while that seemed like a lofty goal, was it enough? Or was there more to contentment than simply doing good things? She longed for something bigger than her dreams, abilities, and expectations.

One day she was at a basketball game, and one of the players committed a foul. He argued the call with the referee, and the referee tossed the player from the competition. Then the player’s coach came out and contested the same call, and the referee threw the coach from the game.

 “So who referees our lives?” Hope asked. Someone or something had to be in charge. If there were referees to manage basketball games, there had to be a referee or referees to control the world or entire universe.

Even in a basketball game, somebody kept a record of how many shots a player made, how many fouls he committed, and how many assists he had. If officials did that in a meaningless ballgame, somebody must keep score in the bigger game of life. 

Hope accepted that life wasn’t fair, but sooner or later, things that weren’t fair had to be reconciled, just like her checkbook had to be reconciled. She had recently learned about the importance of that when she overdrew her bank account because of a silly mistake. But the bank didn’t think it was silly—they charged her over a hundred dollars for three overdrafts.

There had to be a reckoning in this unfair world. Maybe that’s what Hope longed for, judgment. Then she asked, “Who determines what is fair or unfair?” Hope recalled the basketball game and the ref who threw out the player and the coach. Only an impartial referee could do that.

Could there be a divine being who called the shots, ensured justice was carried out and fixed those things that weren’t fair? What about all the wicked people who did evil things? There had to be a God who weighed the good and the bad, and who someday would assess everything that everybody had ever done.

One day Hope was working as a court reporter in a trial that lasted for several days. The judge called a lunch break, and she went to a nearby restaurant to enjoy the much-needed time off. Following lunch, when she returned, she knew her job would be taxing. The defense had brought in an expert witness from out of state, which meant it would be tedious with multiple direct and cross-examinations. She thought about the jury and their task—to decide if the plaintiffs had proven their case. Sometimes it was hard to know where the truth was, and she didn’t envy their job. All she did as a court reporter was write down what was said and certify that it was accurate.

Soon she returned to the courthouse and took her seat in front of the judge. The defense began their direct examination, which went on for a while. As she sat close to the witness to write his testimony, she noticed that he started having a medical issue, perhaps a seizure; but nobody else, at least initially, noticed.

It became apparent to everyone in the courtroom when he passed out on the witness stand. At first, nobody did anything. How often did witnesses die in the middle of an examination?

Someone called an ambulance, the bailiff escorted the jury out, and the judge called a recess.

*

The legal system is supposed to be about fairness. You get into trouble and somebody sues you. You’ve been a victim and want compensation. You hope the system treats you fairly.

Death has a way of stopping everything. That day everything seemed meaningless. Was it fair that the expert witness had diabetes and died on the witness stand? Of course, the judge was powerless to do anything to save the man. He was just the judge of the trial and not of the man’s life.

The question continued to linger in Hope’s heart. Was there a judge over life and death? Or did everything happen by chance? She reasoned that there must be a supreme being somewhere. Otherwise, people would be mere puppets on a string and only able to respond when someone pulled their string.

Hope shook her head. “No, I don’t believe that,” she said. “I’m not a puppet. I have free will to decide how I will react to the unfairness of life. That’s a good thing.” She thought about that fortune cookie she had opened several months earlier that said, “Life is not fair.” Because she had free will, she had chosen a higher moral path, to do good things because she wanted to.

One day Hope was shopping, and nature called. She needed to make an unexpected visit to the ladies’ room. As she squatted over the toilet, she saw a pamphlet on the door with a beautiful monarch butterfly. Underneath the photo was the question, “Are you born again?”

Was it a coincidence? She remembered her monarch butterfly garden full of milkweed and her failed attempt to provide a sandy way station for them when they emerged from the chrysalis. Tadpoles were born instead, and she took them to the lake so they could grow into frogs.

She pulled the pamphlet off the door to read all of it. Suddenly, she understood. Just like caterpillars and tadpoles have to be “born again” to become butterflies and frogs, people must be born again spiritually to become all that God created them to be.

Why had nobody explained this to her? Or perhaps she had closed her eyes, ears, and heart to this simple truth. Now that God had opened her eyes, she wanted to find a Bible. She wanted to learn more about the creator, the referee of the universe, the one who gave her free will.

In the bathroom stall, after poring over the words in the pamphlet, Hope committed her life to Jesus Christ. How would anyone believe she locked herself in a public, smelly bathroom to pee and then emerged cleansed from all unrighteousness? Probably no one except another born-again Christian—and monarch butterflies and frogs.

Hope reflected, perhaps aborted babies would be born again—in heaven. She hoped that was the case, but for today, God had healed her heart. The fortune cookie had only conveyed a half-truth. Even if life wasn’t fair, as a born-again Christian, she would choose a higher calling than just being a good person—she would live for the glory of God.

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A SHORT STORY: Mirror, Mirror by Lorilyn Roberts

WILLIAM CHRISTENSEN pulled up to the beach house with his wife and two daughters.

“We’re here,” he exclaimed. He turned off the engine and pointed. “And the house is right on the ocean.”

His teenage daughters squealed.

“Go check it out. Your mom and I will join you later.”

The girls leaped out of the car.

William winked at his wife. “That didn’t take too much convincing.”

She surveyed the sandy shoreline and clipping waves in the distance. “It’s a dream come true. One week away from everything.”

William nodded. “With my brother and his family.”

A highly successful doctor with a thriving medical practice, William had been nominated for a significant award for his work on pancreatic cancer. He had recently appeared on Fox News, Bloomberg, and CNN.

As those thoughts swirled in the doctor’s head, he thought about the attention he had received from strangers. However, the toll on his family was steep. With all the deadlines, presentations, expectations, and media hype behind his promising cure, he wasn’t sure it was worth it.

In contrast, his brother, Noah, had done much for the kingdom of God. Why couldn’t he be like his brother—faithful to God and the truth?

But, for now, William was thankful to be with his family. He hoped this vacation would help him to get back on track.

He stepped out of the car, and his phone chirped. “Almost there.”

William smiled. “Noah will be here in a few minutes. Why don’t you make sure the house meets your expectations, and I’ll stay here and wait for him.”

His wife adjusted the sun hat over her eyes. “In this heat?”

William nodded. “You go. I’ll be there soon.”

Before heading to the vacation beach house, his wife stepped back into the car and grabbed a few things.

As she disappeared, William reminisced how he loved his wife now more than the day he married her. When had he last thanked God for his family?

*

PASTOR NOAH CHRISTENSEN exclaimed, “We’re almost there,” as if the rest of his family hadn’t figured it out.

The two teenage boys cheered in the back of the van.

When the family pulled into the driveway, Noah saw his brother leaning against the car, waiting for him.

Noah’s wife smiled. “You and your famous brother have much catching up to do.”

Noah squirmed. His twin brother was a successful doctor, but she didn’t need to rub it in. While William was winning international awards, Noah was pastoring a small church of two hundred members. However, recently, the church no longer felt like a bastion for the weary and the hopeless. Members had become preoccupied with social justice, wokeness, and inclusivity. Many of the congregants wanted to get rid of him.

Elders had met two weeks earlier to discuss firing him. A new controversy erupted every week. Discouraged, he wanted to walk away from it all. Perhaps they were right; his suffering was because of his unwillingness to compromise.

Even though he hadn’t told anyone, Noah planned on turning in his resignation. He believed his ministry had failed despite many coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

The boys quickly exited the car and headed for the beach.

His wife put on her sunglasses. “I’ll leave you to with your brother.” Her eyes followed the steps to the beach house. “I can’t wait to see the inside.”

Noah nodded. In his heart, though, her words pricked him. A whole week to feel inferior to his brother. He didn’t begrudge what his brilliant brother had accomplished. He only wished he could have had the same success as a pastor.

William hurried over to greet Noah as he stepped out of the car. “Hey, Brother.”

The twins embraced. “It’s been too long,” William said. “And your boys have grown so much.”

Noah smiled. “Where are your girls?”

William glanced toward the beach. “They took off that way.”

Noah chuckled. “Our kids will find each other.”

In many ways, the twin brothers’ lives paralleled each other. Except William had become a doctor, and Noah had become a pastor. William was wealthy and respected in the medical community. Noah was disrespected and hated by many in his church. William had a bright future. Noah couldn’t bear to think about his future.

But for now, Noah would be thankful for this time with his brother, William. He wouldn’t tell his brother that his church wanted to fire him. Resigning sounded better than being fired.

*

WILLIAM clutched his brother on the shoulder. “Let’s go for a walk, shall we?”

Noah looked at his shoes.

As if William could read his twin brother’s mind, he chirped, “Just leave them in the car. Come on, before we get busy with family stuff. Let’s go.”

Noah didn’t need much convincing. He flipped off his shoes, and they made a beeline to the beach.

William remembered their summer vacations as kids when they would kick beach balls, build sandcastles, and look for sand crabs. Those memories were sweet to William, but they seemed like eons ago. William longed for that time again when he didn’t feel burdened with so much responsibility. He felt like he was sinking under the expectations of an overreaching medical complex. “Publish, publish, publish,” his superiors would say, “so we can get more funding.”

William only wanted his brother to tell him inspiring stories about what God was doing in his church. He tried to imagine how awesome it would be to serve a God-fearing congregation and an elder board that loved the Lord. William couldn’t remember the last time his family had attended church regularly. He was out of town so much—and while he longed for church fellowship, he could never find the time to make it happen.

“How is your church?” William asked. “Are you growing? Many new converts? How about those missionaries in Africa? Do they need more money?”

That was always William’s answer for not attending church regularly. Send more money. Not that money wasn’t necessary for missions, but—was there more God wanted from him?

Noah evaded answering for a minute to frame his words carefully. “The church is going through some tough times.”

William nodded as he stopped to soak his feet in a freshly made water hole. “Yeah, I suppose with all this woke stuff and gender confusion and social justice”—He paused for a second. “Of course, I’d rather deal with that than—”

“Than what?” Noah asked.

“Ah, just all the political stuff. Practicing medicine is harder when the government tells you what you can and can’t do, what you can and can’t prescribe, you know, all that stuff you hear in the news.”

Noah quipped. “But everyone respects you, William. You practically run the medical research at the University. Without you, their funding would disappear.”

William shook his head. “Everybody owns me. Sometimes I feel like a pawn in a chess match waiting to be wiped off the board for some idiotic king who thinks he’s God. At least in church, you are surrounded by people who seek the truth and want to improve the world. With you as their pastor, the church should be thankful. You’d never compromise God’s word for—for popularity.”

*

NOAH couldn’t state the truth. His unwillingness to compromise had cost him the pastorate. If his brother knew the truth, if he really knew—suddenly, a crazy thought swirled in his head. What if they traded places for a few days? He would be William, and William would be Noah. They would only let their family in on the hoax. Being twins, no one would know the difference. All their lives, people had confused them, even those who knew them well. But before suggesting it, his brother blurted out exactly what he was thinking.

“Let’s trade places,” William said. “You be me for a couple of days.”

Noah pretended not to want to go along with it.

“Noah,” William said. “I need a diversion. I haven’t been to church in so long. I’d give anything to be around God-fearing churchgoers. I don’t want this fame and notoriety. It’s not what everybody thinks it is.”

Noah couldn’t believe his ears. Could they pull this off? Maybe God had planned all of this out and brought them to the beach for a week to make it happen.

Besides, Noah imagined William’s battles being easy compared to his. William had no idea what it was like to pastor a church where the people hated you. And to be admired by doctors, the media, the University—how could that be hard to handle? Of course, he didn’t know a thing about medicine. He certainly couldn’t practice it, or he would go to jail. But he could sit in his brother’s office, wear a white coat, and feel important.

“Okay. I’m all in,” Noah said. “Not for very long, though, or we could get into trouble. If we did get caught, we’d call it a joke. Nobody needs to know except our family.”

The brothers continued talking about how they could pull off the hoax. As they talked, the plan grew, taking on a life of its own.

Suddenly, the cries of someone in the ocean reached their ears.

“A waterspout,” Noah exclaimed. “My God, somebody is caught in it.”

The brothers ran toward the water—was it one of their children?

At last, they could see the person struggling in the water. Thank God he was alive, although he was in trouble. Noah followed William into the swirling waves. The victim was an older man, perhaps in his sixties. The brothers struggled through the cresting tide as the spout tossed water in every direction. The undertow was stronger than Noah had ever felt. If he had not been focused on saving the dying man, he would have been terrified that he was going to drown.

Noah prayed, “Please, Lord, help us.”

With the man choking and gasping for air, the brothers managed to haul him to shore. The waterspout dissipated, and the sudden calmness of the water seemed supernatural. William laid the man gently on the sand. As a doctor, he knew what to do. And Noah, a Godly man, prayed like the man’s life depended on it.

Together, the twin brothers worked on the rescued man. After a short time, the man revived and sat up. Noah praised God, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for answering our prayers.”

Dr. Christensen continued to assess him. “We need to call an ambulance, or do you have a relative we can contact?”

The man peered into William’s eyes with such intensity Noah saw fear on his brother’s face. Was there more to this near drowning than Noah recognized?

As the brothers waited for the man to answer William’s question, the man stood abruptly.

The brothers stared in amazement. How could he recover so quickly?

“Who are you?” Noah asked.

“Do not be afraid,” the man said. “You wanted to save me. In doing so, you saved yourselves. He glanced at William. “You are a doctor,” and then he looked at Noah. “And you are a pastor.”

The two brothers exchanged glances. Who was this man? How could he know their profession? Noah knew his brother was thinking the same thing.

“The reality is,” the man said, “I saved you from losing your rewards. Salvation is a gift, but rewards are earned. Think about it. Each of you wants what your twin brother has. Is that not like Satan, to fool you into believing that what the other person has is better?”

Speechless, Noah and William stared at the man.

“Don’t believe the devil’s lies. Do what God has called you to do. If that’s suffering, suffer with joy. If it’s achieving success, give God the glory. If it’s weariness, don’t give up. Accept your lot in life with humility, and love God when things are easy and when they aren’t. If you do that, heavenly awards await you.”

Several seconds passed until the brothers could speak, and then the man disappeared.

“We just had a vision,” Noah said.

William nodded. “The first thing I’m going to do is—repent.”

Noah’s pride evaporated. “Things have been terrible at my church.”

William interrupted him. “That’s because you stand for truth. Don’t compromise, Noah,” William said. “You heard what the angel said.”

The voices of four teens approaching interrupted their supernatural encounter. Noah said, “We need to pray for our children.”

“I must spend more time with my family,” William said. “I must. I’ve been warned.”

“Giving up is not an option,” Noah said. “I will never resign.” He looked up into the heavens. “Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I feel like I’ve been born again.”

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A SHORT STORY: No Fear by Lorilyn Roberts

 

 

The cemetery beckoned Deborah’s mother every year about this time, but Deborah didn’t know why. She suspected, but her mother wouldn’t tell her.

“It’s enough that you know your nanny rests in peace here,” is all she would say, “until the right time comes to tell you.”

Deborah reminisced. Her beloved grandmother was so intelligent, so beautiful, and so kind. She wouldn’t have hurt a fly.

The weather was cold even in the noonday sun, and Deborah wondered why they couldn’t come to the cemetery in the summer when it was warmer. Her mother placed some flowers beside the headstone, and as she leaned over, Deborah could see tears in her reddened eyes.

Deborah’s memories of her grandmother were dreamlike because she was so young when her grandmother disappeared, but she remembered vividly the last time she saw her Nanny. It was her favorite memory from childhood.

“Mother, what happened to Grandma?”

The older woman remained silent. She wanted to tell her daughter, but she couldn’t. Every time she tried, she choked up, and the words wouldn’t come out.

Deborah propped up the red flowers and ran her fingers over the dates on the stone marker. She longed for one last conversation with Nanny. Death was so final, especially for one so young. The date on the tombstone was only a few weeks after that special event in Washington, D.C. Deborah remembered her grandma that day as healthy and vibrant, laughing and singing as she pushed Deborah in the stroller.

Now fourteen and a young woman, she believed she could handle the secret her mother hid in her heart. She was old enough to think about serious things and determined not to let another year pass without knowing the truth.

She turned to her mother sitting beside her, but at that moment, the stricken woman bent over and turned away. The young girl lovingly touched her mother’s shoulder. “The last time I remember seeing Nanny was when we went to Washington, D.C.

Her mother’s face turned to Deborah, and she held her pointed index finger up to her lips. “You mustn’t talk about that day. The drones hide in secret places,” and she sternly admonished her a second time, her words clipped with fear.

But Deborah didn’t care who heard. She wanted to speak her heart. “That day was my favorite day as a child. You, grandma, and I were together. I don’t know where pappa was, but the three of us were there, and I remember the music, the beautiful singing, and everybody praying.”

Deborah stopped speaking as if a new revelation gripped her. “Mother, we never hear beautiful music anymore.”

Resignation crossed her mother’s face. “You mustn’t ever talk about that day again, you hear me, Honey?”

The fragileness of the moment beguiled Deborah. Discouraged but unwilling to admit she had been cheated of the truth once more, she would try again later. The two returned to their tiny one-room house that looked like every other house on the street. The houses were so close together everyone knew everybody else’s business. Several times each day, drones scoured the sky looking into windows for something, although nobody knew what. Sameness was important. Nobody wanted to stand out. Nobody wanted to be noticed. Nobody wanted to be seen or heard.

Deborah remembered her grandmother loved to read. She remembered the books that lined the walls of her living room and bedroom. Nanny was the most intelligent person she ever knew, yet somebody took her away. How could someone so amazing just disappear? Nanny never did anything wrong. Why wouldn’t her mother tell her? Deborah had even scoured the Internet, hoping to find her grandmother’s name. But it was like she never existed.

January 6, 2021, was only nine years ago, yet there were only a few articles about that day on the Internet. How could there be so few references when Deborah remembered the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people walking beside her in the stroller?

Deborah knew what the government said—many people had died that day, all at the hands of “Trump supporters and right-wing religious fanatics” who took over the Capitol. Because of the widespread destruction and damage, the government hauled many off to jail.

Was her beloved Nanny one of those eyewitnesses arrested? How could that be when Nanny wouldn’t even kill a spider?

Besides, they wouldn’t have gone to the event if there was any danger. Nanny was an American patriot and wanted to be there that day. How could Deborah learn what happened? Did her mother even know? Or had she been brainwashed to forget? Deborah knew those things happened routinely. It was called re-education.

As Deborah watched her mother twist and turn in bed, uttering groanings too deep to understand, the young girl went through everything in her mind she could remember starting with January 6, 2021, and the days and weeks that followed.

It wasn’t long after that that her dad went off to war. According to government reports, he was a hero, but Deborah didn’t believe those reports. Why didn’t he ever come home? The government said America was winning the war, but how could anyone know? No one knew what happened outside the country. She hadn’t seen her father in years, but occasionally, her mother would receive a letter declaring he had won another medal for his heroism.

Deborah didn’t care about medals. Her mother would scold her, “You have food to eat, a roof over your head, and clothes to wear. What more do you want?” And then, emotionally spent, her mother would stomp off.

Deborah felt sorry for her mother. At least Deborah was honest with her feelings; her mother just believed her own lies. But she could never come up with a good answer to her mother’s questions. Yes, they had food, clothes, and a roof, but Deborah felt like a person with no past and no future. Is this how she wanted to live the rest of her life?

The two-week winter break would end soon, and Deborah would have to return to school. But the nightmares were unrelenting and made it difficult for her to focus in school. She would see herself in the stroller among the thousands of people on that wide roadway, swept up in the music, the celebration, and the wonder of the events that took place on that special day. And then everything would go dark. Two of the dearest people in her life suddenly disappeared.

What happened? None of what the state-run media said was as she remembered. But, she was only a young child that day; maybe she was too young to remember.

Deborah walked over to her mother as she rested on their small bed. Mother probably wished she would turn out the lights so she could sleep. But Deborah was determined to find out what happened.

“Mother,” Deborah asked, “do we have any of the books from Nanny’s old house?”

Mother sighed. “Even if I had any, I wouldn’t show them to you. You know books have been banned unless they are state-approved.”

“So her books are not state-approved?”

“I didn’t say that,” her mother snapped.

“Why can’t I know what happened to my grandmother? Why?”

Her mother sat up in bed and glared at Deborah. “Your grandmother was a domestic terrorist. She was sent off to prison and died. What more do you want to know?”

Deborah didn’t like her mother’s rebuff. “Don’t you care about my feelings? I loved Grandma, domestic terrorist or not.”

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” her mother scoffed.

Deborah glared at her. “You don’t really believe that, do you? Nanny was so smart, compassionate, and—she loved Jesus.”

Mother’s eyes moistened. “Don’t say that name, or they will come and take you to a re-education camp.”

Deborah retorted. “Some things are more important. You’ve allowed the government to take your soul. Fear is your constant companion. Nanny would never let that happen.”

Mother leaned into Deborah and whispered. “And that’s why they hauled her off to a re-education camp.” Mother’s countenance fell. “I’ve lost everyone important to me. I’d die if something happened to you.”

“Please, Mother,” Deborah insisted, “just show me one book of hers. Just one. I can hold the book to my chest and feel Nanny’s presence in my heart.”

Her mother glanced around the small house and whispered, “Unplug everything, the computer, TV—better yet, cover them up with towels. Close the blinds. And we must do it quickly before the nightly drone stops by and hovers in front of the window.

Quickly they concealed anything that could send or receive information, and Deborah followed her mother as she walked over to a small closet in the corner of the room. The older woman slid the door aside, knelt down to move some boxes, and then stacked them on top of each other. Where the boxes had been, several loose tiles appeared.

A small hole emerged. Deborah gasped. “I never knew there was anything underneath the tiles.”

Her mother retrieved two books—a family album and a Bible. “At least I have these. Our social score would drop to zero if they discovered these in my possession. You wouldn’t be able to go to college. They would force us to live on starvation rations.”

She handed Deborah the book with photographs.

Deborah opened the photo album and saw pictures of when she was little, along with her pappa and mom. Her mother was so beautiful, and her grandmother was stunning. Deborah sat back and cherished the family memories. She gently touched a photograph of her father and grandmother. She whispered under her breath, “What happened to them?”

Deborah continued to pore over more photos, noticing something she didn’t expect to see—wealth. Grandma’s house was very large.

Unexpectedly, Deborah remembered things she had forgotten. Like her grandmother playing the piano, the rides they took in Nanny’s car to the park, and the ice cream store they would visit when they left the park. What happened to that world? When had she last tasted ice cream?

Sadness overcame Deborah. She set the family album aside. What had started as an exciting adventure into the past became an overwhelming lump of sorrow in Deborah’s throat.

“Can I see Nanny’s Bible?” Deborah asked.

Her mother handed the old book to her, and Deborah ran her fingers along the frayed edges of the cover. Had she seen one of these before? Deborah closed her eyes—and remembered. “Where is that book you used to read to me that had Bible stories?”

Mother shook her head. These are my only two books—your Nanny’s Bible and these family photos.” Her voice quivered. “Deborah, only a tiny bit longer. It’s getting late, and the drone will be coming by at any moment.”

Deborah blurted out, “What good is it if you don’t read the Bible? Or even look at these photographs? You can’t enjoy them if they’re hidden in a dark closet.”

“They are so precious, Deborah. I don’t want to risk losing them. They would take these from me if they knew I had them. Or worse.”

Deborah opened the Bible and found a note inside.

“Oh, the note,” Mother exclaimed, “I forgot about the note. Please read it.”

Deborah whispered the words to her mother. “Dear Deborah. God told me someday you would find this Bible. The demons will flee if you call on the name of Jesus. Seek the truth, and never give up. Love, Nanny.”

Deborah swallowed hard and handed the note to her mother. “Mother, something supernatural happened on January 6, 2021, which changed America. Why didn’t the people who were there speak up? Why didn’t they tell the truth? Why did they let the news media spread lies?”

Deborah’s mother lowered her eyes. “Because if they did, they would have been arrested, like your dear grandmother. She spoke up. She spoke the truth. She knew what the CCP had done in China. That’s why she took extra pamphlets to share with others. Nobody thought the CCP would take over America, except perhaps a few conspiracy lunatics.”

Deborah thought about the CCP pamphlets her mother and grandmother handed her that day. She remembered circling the letters “CCP” etched in bold letters on the covers. Of course, as a child, they were just letters—nothing significant or earth-shattering. But because Nanny had handed them to her to hold, she felt important. Never could she have imagined the dire warnings in those words. If only somebody had taken those warnings seriously.

Deborah grabbed her mother’s hand. “They were warning the people, weren’t they? They knew what was coming, those people in the booths.”

Mother nodded. “We must put these books back and open the blinds,” Mother said. “We can’t wait any longer. It’s late.”

Deborah wrapped her arms around the Bible and imagined she could smell the faint scent of her dear Nanny. She breathed in deeply. “I want to sleep with Nanny’s Bible.”

“If they see you with that …” her mother’s voice trailed off.

“It’s the Bible, Mother. They will not see it. God will protect us.”

Mother bit her lip and hesitated, and for the first time in years, Deborah saw hope in her eyes.

“I believe you,” her mother said. “I want to trust God. If only I had more faith.”

Deborah and her mother clasped each other tightly. Then Deborah released her hold and said, “I remember something Nanny once said, ‘Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’”

Her mother nodded.

“No fear,” Deborah said. “No fear.”

 

 

 

Psalms 30:5:  “…weeping may endure for a nightbut joy cometh in the morning.”

 

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A SHORT STORY: Enemy of the Soul by Lorilyn Roberts

The aging woman drew the window blinds even tighter. “No light,” she declared. “Light hurts my eyes. I mustn’t let in the light.”

She stuffed towels between the blinds and the glass window and taped the blinds to the windowsill. She lived alone, locked in self-imposed solitary confinement with little human contact. She wanted nothing—not love, not pity, not even comfort. Those emotions were for humans who still felt human, but she had become a fragment of humanness long ago. She didn’t want to feel. She only lived to conquer the terror that welled up in her heart during the day and the predator that invaded her room at night.

“Why did they construct windows in this room?” she lamented. “I could keep ‘it’ out if it weren’t for the windows.”

Tap-tap-tap. The knocking on the door alerted her that her meal had arrived. She grabbed some cash from her cash jar and opened the door for the delivery man.

“Keep the change,” she said, which was hardly a tip, but enough to keep him coming back the next day.

She wasn’t going to eat right away, but the smell of chicken and rice soon filled the room. She relented. Pulling up a chair, she sat beside the covered window—an obsession that filled her with dread, but her weak-willed spirit held her in bondage.

“I will conquer ‘it’ tonight,” she mumbled. “I won’t let ‘it’ into the room.”

Night came earlier in the winter months, and soon shadows filled the room, etching strange patterns on the walls. She heard whispers through the window, the rattling of the blinds, and the lisping tree branches scraping the window. The screen had long ago been mutilated by “it.”

“No,” she cried out. “You can’t come in.” She tried to hold “it” back, the monster that wanted her. All night she fought it—with every ounce of physical and emotional strength she possessed. But “it” always won. She would fall asleep exhausted when “it” left at the first ray of sunlight. “It” hated the light—more than “it” hated her.

“If only I could be set free of my misery,” she wrote on a piece of paper. “I don’t want anything except to get rid of ‘it.’”

Her husband had abandoned her, and her children had cut her off long ago. Somewhere on those streets below the window, they lived. “I must tame the window. I must keep ‘it’ out. I must conquer the enemy of my soul.”

She didn’t need love. She didn’t need anything; she was quite capable of taking care of herself. If only she could destroy “it.”

Then one day, she heard a different kind of knock. “Who could that be?” she muttered. Months had passed since anyone had come to see her. She timidly approached the door.

“Who is it?” she asked.

“I have a package for you, Ma’am,” the voice said.

“A package?” she asked.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

The woman unbolted the door, and a postman who held a small brown envelope greeted her. “Can you sign here, Ma’am?”

The woman initialed the package receipt and closed the door. As she strolled toward the unkempt bed, she read the name, “U.C. Little.” Her heart skipped. She hadn’t read that name in years—her ex-husband. Why would anyone be sending his package to her? She tore open the envelope to discover government papers inside.

Her ex-husband would need these papers, but she wouldn’t send them to him. He should have taken care of this a long time ago. “Am I my ex-husband’s keeper,” she smirked.

She took great delight in tossing the papers aside. “Another chance for me to get back at him. He took away my dreams. He doesn’t deserve anything from me.”

That night, the darkness grew fiercer, and nightmares invaded her mind. The intensity of the spiritual attack made it difficult to tell the natural world from the unseen realm.

The next morning, feeling tired and disheartened, she fixated her eyes on the covered window. “I can’t keep ‘it’ out. I’m lost,” and her defeatism brought her to her knees.

“It” is winning,” she admitted. “I’m dying.”

“If only…I could do things all over again.” She turned to the table where the government documents lay discarded.

Weeks passed as she lamented her inability to defeat “it.” With her strength diminishing, she was ready to give up. Living only to beat “it” was futile. She wanted to die, but that would mean “it” had conquered her. Never!

One morning, she heard a knock on the door. She recognized it as the knock she’d heard once before. “Another package?” she mused. “Surely not.”

She went to the door, and indeed, the same postman stood there with another brown envelope.

“Can you sign here, Ma’am?”

The woman complied and shut the door. But this time, she didn’t tear the package open and dump the contents on the table. Instead, she sat by the covered window with the envelope on her lap. Did she want to spend the rest of her life cut off from the world, from her children, from everything?

“What a waste,” she heard a voice say. Startled, she glanced around the room, but no one was there.

She stood and walked to the dresser, pulling out a pen and envelope. Where did her ex-husband live? She returned to the window chair and peeled back some tape from the window blind. Eclipsed sunshine peeked through the open crack. Dull from darkness, her eyes flinched at the intense brightness.

What would U.C. Little think about the package when he received it? She attached a note—unthinkable a few weeks earlier.

She smiled, delighted that she could see the light—bright, unrelenting light. It didn’t matter what U.C. Little thought—she could see the light.

Jeremiah 9:21 (KJV):  “For death is come up into our windows, [and] is entered into our palaces…”

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A SHORT STORY: Door Number 1 by Lorilyn Roberts; Seventh Dimension – The Howling

 

 

Door Number 1

 

I stood in the foyer and stared at Door Number 1. The only choice I was given was the order of the doors. So I could know the future to warn others—wasn’t that what the voice said?

I turned the handle. The door opened to a room of mirrors. However, these weren’t regular mirrors; they were mirrored doorways. “Which one should I enter, Lord?”

I heard nothing. I waited a little longer, but God’s voice was silent. He left the choice to me. I wanted to choose wisely. I stepped around several and came to a tall mirror. I stuck my hand in and pulled it out. I passed up that one and several others until I came to a mirror with moving images. I entered that one.

I was in a world of moving sidewalks. They went to the north, south, east, and west, crisscrossing each other, intersecting, and moving at very high speeds.

I looked down at my feet, and I was standing on the word “Go” in a multi-dimensional space. As I studied the moving tele-transports, I noticed travelers. Some of the people were anxious. Others seemed to enjoy the journey. Some disappeared and reappeared farther down the road. Others popped up and stayed.

I watched, mesmerized. I tried to see people’s faces. Who was happy and who was sad? That wasn’t made clear to me.

There were more than a dozen sidewalks. The longer I mulled over which one to choose, the more uncertain I became. After a while, I grew weary. I threw up my hands. Choices carry eternal consequences, and I wanted to make the right one.

“You choose,” I heard a voice say. “Free will is a wonderful thing in the hands of an awesome God.”

The sidewalk whisked me alongside dozens of other travelers. As the moving sidewalk carried me, I saw foods that whet my appetite. Cinnamon rolls, chocolate croissants, and other pastries called my name. I passed a brewery with a sign advertising free samples of beer. Farther along I caught a whiff of delightful scents—perfumes, essential oils, and soaps—so many choices, so much opportunity.

The exchange of money increased. Soon I saw people buying things they couldn’t afford. They pulled out credits cards, signed bank loans, borrowed from friends, and more.

“I’ve maxed out my credit cards,” someone said.

“No problem,” a merchant replied. “Just sign here.”

I left that conversation, and I continued along the widening sidewalk of debt.

“This car will be the best car you’ve ever owned,” a car salesman exhorted. “It’s the number one rated sports car in the world.”

I looked at the price tag—a hundred thousand dollars.

Soon I came to a crosswalk. Until now, I didn’t know the sidewalks were named. To my surprise, I was traveling on the Sidewalk of Necessities. I came to a store where a merchant was selling animals. The buyer offered the seller money, which was no small amount. 

The merchant shook his head. “That’s not enough. These animals are extinct. You can breed them and create a new Garden of Eden. Imagine the people who will flock to your attraction—people who love Mother Earth, conservationists, animal lovers, and bird enthusiasts. You’ll be the richest man in the world. Who wouldn’t want to visit the rebirth of the Garden of Eden?”

The bartering continued. What would be a fair price to buy extinct animals and create another Garden of Eden?

As I walked, I came to a merchant who was selling futures. “Hear ye,” he shouted as he waved his hand. “Step right up. We’ll release your heart-felt dream. It’s reasonably priced, and you deserve it. Come and see a demonstration of the only dream reaper in the world.”

A woman walked up. “What’s the price?”

The wiry man whipped out his hand and pointed with a dramatic flair. “Have a seat. If you qualify after this demonstration, you’ll be given a special seat in the real dream reaper.” I looked behind the salesman at a most unusual contraption.

The woman was in her late twenties or early thirties and appeared to be in good health. Youth was leaving her, as it does for all of us, but she was too immature to have attained wisdom.

The woman poured out her heart to the stranger in extraordinary detail, expounding on all the unfair and unjust things that had happened to her, leading to a life in the gutter of despair. Always the victim, she wallowed in self-pity and rejection.

The merchant smiled. “You’re just the right person for the dream reaper. You deserve better. Don’t worry about the cost. You can pay it off in the next thirty years before your date with death.”

“What do you mean, my date with death?”

The merchant replied, “Well, I can’t tell you any more than that. You’ll need to talk to the dream reaper. He can answer that question.”

She looked around. “Where is he?”

The merchant pointed. “Step right up to the dream reaper building.”

The woman hesitated.

“You want to release your dream, right?”

The woman nodded, but her enthusiasm dissipated when she realized she couldn’t have it—another unjust and unfair thing to add to her trophy list of unhappiness.

I continued walking. A merchant stood out front waving a strange-looking banner—Soul Extractor. No one was at his stand, so I left the Sidewalk of Necessities and strolled up to the merchant.

“Tell me about your soul extractor business.”

His eyes lit up, and he greeted me with such exuberance I felt indebted to make a purchase.

“Would you like your soul extracted?” the man asked me.

“What do you do with the soul once you extract it?”

“Oh,” the merchant said, “I give it to the devil.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you ever met a person without a soul?”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “If I sell my soul to you, then I no longer have a soul.”

“That’s right,” the merchant said. “But for some people, other things are more important than their soul.”

I stared at the merchant.

The man leaned over and looked into my eyes. “Think about it,” he whispered.

“You mean people would sell their soul?”

He laughed. “Absolutely.”

“What do you give them for their soul?”

The man cocked his head as if surprised by my question. “The devil sets the price.”

So what do you do with the soul you extract?”

The man laughed. “As I said, I give it to the devil.”

“You can’t do that,” I protested.

The smile left his face. “Look, I’m not discussing the moral issue of it. All I care about is selling the soul, and all the devil cares about is receiving the soul. So we have the soul extractor. Everyone is happy. The person has what he wanted, I’ve made the transaction, and the devil has the soul.”

I shook my head. “How can you do that?”

He leaned over and whispered, “Because I sold my soul to the devil and now I do his bidding. I have no choice. He owns me.”

 

⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔

 
 
 
 

Isaiah 45:7 (KJV): I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. 

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A SHORT STORY: Have Pink Suitcase – Will Travel by Lorilyn Roberts

 

 

Hailey Becker was all of 79 years old. She lived with her doting, younger husband for the better part of her life, and they had two wonderful grown daughters who lived nearby. They were one of those families you couldn’t help but like. Hailey was the best cook this side of paradise, and Charlie could be anybody’s uncle—even the mothers-in-law who gossip too much. Charlie knew how to be polite and caring, and a pot of coffee was always brewing whenever I stopped by.

So when we heard about an upcoming surprise trip, everybody wanted to know the details. However, Charlie could keep a secret like no one, and Hailey—well, I’m not sure she knew all the details. 

A few weeks later, Hailey called me. “You must come by and see my new suitcase,” she said. “When we went to Cuba, our suitcases were too small for all the stuff we bought. We had to ship the vases back, and I worried for weeks when they didn’t arrive.”

I stopped in to see her bright pink new suitcase. What did her hubby think about the pink luggage? Knowing Charlie, he would say it was perfect.

“I wanted to be able to find my suitcase amongst the hundreds of others. You know, they all look the same when they pull them off the boat.”

I remembered when I went on a cruise and came home with somebody else’s luggage. And I didn’t even notice it wasn’t my bag until I opened it and found high heels stashed inside.

I laughed. “Sounds like a good strategy,” although I couldn’t imagine Hailey being like me and coming home with anybody else’s luggage. 

Several months went by, and Hailey talked about the upcoming trip on several occasions. I heard through the grapevine that her suitcase was packed. One day she said to me, “You know, I keep telling Charlie he needs to pack his bag. Mine is ready, but he hasn’t even started packing his. We sure don’t want to miss the boat. What can I do to get him to pack his clothes?”

“You know how men are,” I said. “They can pack in three minutes.” 

Hailey’s eyes twinkled. “Not me. I like to be ready at a moment’s notice. Unexpected things can come up, and it would be dreadful to miss the boat because I packed too late.” 


I smiled. “Charlie won’t let you down. He’ll be at your side when you are ready to board that ship. I promise you.”

Soon signs revealed the trip was imminent. I heard that the suitcase was right beside Hailey’s bed, where she now spent most of her days. She was ready whenever the moment arrived.

Then I received word that they were on the way to the departure gate. Charlie reassured me he had her ticket in hand and her belongings were in the pink suitcase. He would make sure she was comfortable as she stood at the gate. I couldn’t wait to say goodbye to my friend.

When I arrived, Hailey’s bubbly personality enveloped me. She pointed to her bags, “I’m ready,” she exclaimed, “but I still don’t understand why Charlie hasn’t packed very much.” After a few minutes, she added, “I’m not going to worry about him. If he wants to wear the same clothes every day, that’s his choice.”

“He’ll be fine,” I assured my friend.

“When are we leaving?” Hailey asked Charlie several times as I sat beside her. “I don’t want to miss the trip.”

Charlie took her hand in his and locked onto her pleading eyes. “I promise, you won’t miss it.” 

I stopped by the departure gate several times until she made the trip to Glory. I heard her leaving was peaceful. And I also heard that she didn’t need the suitcase she had meticulously packed. 

I thought about all the things I’ve packed away, not only in my house but in my heart. Then I remind myself, it’s an all-expense paid, one-way trip, and we don’t need anything except our passport.

“She wasn’t one minute late,” Charlie reassured me, “and the smile on her face lifted my sorrowful heart.”

Who greeted her when she arrived? I’m sure it was a glorious reunion of friends, family, and Bible heroes. When it’s my turn, I know Hailey will be there to meet me.

Hailey Becker is not just my friend. She’s everybody’s friend. She is all those we’ve loved and said goodbye to too soon. And even though I know I won’t need a suitcase, like Hailey, I want to be ready at a moment’s notice. I find comfort knowing that my bag is packed—a bag filled by my Savior with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. I must remember to refill it from God’s Holy Book each day, so I’m always ready should my name be called. 

I imagine Hailey received so many gifts upon arrival that she was glad she didn’t bring that earthly pink suitcase. While we try to fill our lives with worldly wealth, the wealth in Glory will far surpass anything we could conjure up here. Indeed, I suppose all the pink suitcases in the world could not contain the treasures awaiting when we arrive.


I’ve also heard that I won’t need a winter coat or even any clothes. By all accounts, the weather is perfect, the land exquisite, the joy unspeakable, the citizens glorious, and the price exceptional—by that, I mean, it’s free to pass holders—bought and paid for a long time ago by Jesus Christ. Every day I make sure I’ve packed my pass. The truth is, it’s so big, so heavy, and so heavenly, no pink suitcase could ever contain it. And only Jesus Christ could carry it.

 

                              Second Place Flash Fiction/Short Story                                        

 Florida Christian Writers Conference 2021



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A SHORT STORY: Ransom Smith by Lorilyn Roberts

 

 
The successful businessman reveled in the applause. He had worked hard for this prestigious award. Everyone admired him—his strong work ethic, his determination, and the fact he had saved the failing tech giant from a humiliating fall. The major news outlets had featured his accomplishments, and Time magazine named him a finalist in the “Businessman of the Year” award. That was the award that had eluded him for too long.
 
A pang of jealousy ripped through his heart. Mr. Ransom Smith personally knew the last two winners, and he was much more of a business genius than they were. He spit on the sidewalk of the busy New York City street as he pushed his way through the crowds remembering the night before. This was his year for glory.
 
Why couldn’t his wife appreciate how wonderful he was? When he arrived home after a ten-hour day, the tired, haggard woman wasn’t interested in his exploits. Even the cat ignored him. Only the dog appreciated the sacrifices he had made, wagging his tail and extending affectionate licks and kisses.
 
Mr. Smith approached a busy intersection that he frequented several times during the week. One business establishment always caught his attention—The Utopia Connection. Business people frequented this hole in the wall, and today wasn’t any different.
 
Two men entered as they were greeted by a stunning young woman with long blonde hair draped over her shoulders in ringlets. Mr. Smith glanced at his iPhone. He had a few minutes to linger. Unexpectedly, as the blonde was shutting the door behind her customers, her eyes caught his. For a fleeting moment, Ransom, surprised by the chance encounter, fixated on her face.
 
The young woman smiled. Her enticing eyes called out to him, speaking to his soul, “Ransom, stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant…come and celebrate with me….”
 
The woman disappeared inside, and Mr. Smith shook his head, mumbling under his breath, That was odd. It was as if she knew me. Maybe the young lady did know me. Maybe she had seen the news coverage. Maybe I should introduce myself.”
 
The man stood and watched a couple more businessmen enter. He imagined it must be a restaurant and drew nearer out of curiosity. How had he not noticed the extravagant entrance before—the mosaic-lined floor and the golden flower pots. Still, the strange photographs caught Ransom’s attention the most.
 
Snapshots lined the walls with an assortment of captions, “Bill was here,” “John’s favorite hangout,” “Sam’s place,” and dozens more. Ransom did not know any of the men. Strangely, Ransom noted that all the visitors were dead. Beneath their photographs were the dates of their untimely demises.
 
The scent of burning candles and air misters permeated the softly lit marquee. Etched glass lined the other wall. Mr. Smith tried to see through the exquisite façade, but to no avail. He waited for someone to exit, to ask what was inside this beautiful, captivating establishment. After all, Ransom didn’t want to be seen entering a place that might be unseemly. He was too prideful to fall for that temptation. But despite his waiting longer than he meant to, no one exited.
 
 
 
 
It must be an extraordinary place, Mr. Smith reasoned, because so many enter and no one leaves. A few more minutes passed as Mr. Smith’s curiosity clashed with his better judgment. He glanced at his watch. If he didn’t go now, he would be late for his next meeting. But he longed to admire that beautiful face once more. He wanted to see those eyes, those eyes that latched onto his.
 
She no doubt knew him from the news reports, and if by some unlikely chance she didn’t, he could impress her with his accomplishments. Surely she would be impressed. I wonder if she is married.…
 
Abruptly the door opened, and Mr. Smith was surprised to see only the beautiful young woman reappear. Where were the men? But he quickly dismissed the question as he peered into those eyes—deep and mysterious.
 
She held out her hand to him, and once more, Ransom heard the same words spoken in his mind earlier:

Click to Tweet: “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
 
“Yes,” the man replied, “I’d love to share your stolen water and secret bread. And I’ll pay.”
 
He followed the young woman through the door and disappeared inside. The door shut behind him.
 
Mr. Ransom did not know the dead were there, and her former guests were in the depths of hell.
 
 
Proverbs 9:13-18
 
A foolish woman is clamorous;
She is simple, and knows nothing.
For she sits at the door of her house,
On a seat by the highest places of the city,
To call to those who pass by,
Who go straight on their way.
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here”;
And as for him who lacks understanding, she says to him,
“Stolen water is sweet,
And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
But he does not know that the dead are there,
That her guests are in the depths of hell.
 
 
 

 

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