I need to see you... it's really important. Meet me at our usual spot.
The message from Chloe had Florence worried. The young woman was confused, doubting and the people in her church were no help. She sighed. Same story she had seen time and time again, until she had left her church for good. In the mainstream religions, they had a very Darwinist philosophy of shooting their wounded. Only the most fanatical need apply. It was like a hospital turning away the sick and injured, because "we can't have all those weak people around, they might infect the rest of us."
She had been a pastor's wife for ten years and she finally got sick of the grinning mask she had to wear. Being head of a church was like being a
politician. Always in the spotlight, always having to have the right
answers. Never showing weakness. It was a script that they taught her husband
in seminary, and a play that you performed every Sunday to a captive
audience. Get your lines wrong or miss a cue, and there were those
waiting in the wings ready to tear you apart.
They had torn her husband apart, spiritually, over some small doctrinal issue. She would never forget the day she had found him in the garage, slumped over the steering wheel, the car engine running. She still served God, as she had all her life, but she'd be damned if she'd set foot in a church again.
She spent her Sundays in the park, worshipping and studying her Bible. That was where they had met. Chloe had snuck out of a church service, stressed out and feeling guilty. She saw a lot of those lately. People like Chloe didn't need people telling them how sick they were. They needed to hear how to get better.
She sat down on the bench, wincing slightly. Her morning walks had used to be the highlight of her day, but now her joints and muscles ached. The price of old age. She still kept at it; they also gave her time to think and reflect.
She heard a sound behind her and turned and smiled. "Chloe. What's wr..."
The words died. The wild look in Chloe's face, not to mention the gun pointed at her head dried up any warm words of greeting.
"I'm.... I..." Her breath hitched and tears ran down her face. "I have to do this, Florence. Carpathia will do horrible things to me, if I don't. I'm not protected. I have to k... k... kill you."
A stunned pause, then she found her voice. "Nick Carpathia? The Potentate wants me dead? How does he even know who I am?"
She shook her head. "It's all my fault. I told him all about the bunker and the tape. He asked me about any other believers and I... told him about our talks. He can make me do anything and y... you can't imagine what he'll make me do, if I refuse. He considers you a... subversive element, and thinks it would be a lot smoother if you were taken out."
Don't get rattled or you'll set her off. Carpathia's put this poor
woman through hell. Oh Jesus. Show her that she's not alone. She took a breath and spoke slowly. "If that's true, Chloe, then why doesn't he simply make you shoot me now?"
She paused and shook her head. "Good question." Her voice was steadier now. "I guess he gets a thrill out of manipulating me."
"Exactly. The Devil's goal is not just to have bad things happen. The whole point is to get people to doubt the goodness of God. The End Times are meant to teach people about that goodness, while Satan works to undermine it. Every one of us works for God's purpose. The only question is, whether you will serve in the role of Peter... or of Judas?"
Her face hardened and the gun did not waver. "God has abandoned me, because I can't be good enough. Your "merciful" God is letting that man use me like a puppet. For what? To prove some point? I can't sleep anymore, because he sends nightmares showing what he wants to do to me! Sometimes I want to put this gun in my mouth and pull the trigger, just to make it stop!"
She clicked off the safety. "And apparently I'm going through this, because Jesus loves me so much. Piss on that!"
"Chloe, listen to me. Jesus does l..."
"Say Jesus again!" She put the muzzle against his forehead. "Say it again! I dare you! I double dog dare you! Say Jesus one more God Damned Time!"
They both stared at each other for almost a full minute. Then Florence snickered, chuckled and finally laughed out loud. Chloe stared at her, then a smile crept onto her face, her cheeks quivering.
"S.. should I t... tell... oh hee hee," Florence gasped between helpless laughter, "w... what Marcellus Wallace looks like?"
"Oh God!" That burst the dam. Chloe collapsed onto the ground almost hysterical in laughter. "Oh... d... did I break..." She could barely get the line out. "your con.. con.. centration?"
Her gun had dropped away, and Florence thought about grabbing it. She thought very hard about it. Something made him stay his hand; something bigger than her own safety. Something involving the fate of Chloe's soul.
Dear God. If I have to give my life, I do so gladly. Just don't let her suffer any more.
She held perfectly still. "Chloe, I don't know why God has let Carpathia do these things to you. It's the age old question of why bad things happen. But I do know that it has nothing to do with how much faith you have, or what you feel inside. I used to make that mistake, thinking that if only I could do more and more, then God would love me. Eventually I couldn't play that game anymore and I gave up."
She then took a chance and reached over slowly and touched her free hand. Chloe didn't flinch. "When someone has no reason at all to love, and yet does so anyway, that is the purest form of love there is. That is what God desires from you, and what Carpathia and his master fear the most. Not pretty words, or even great deeds, but the simple act of making the right choices. Even when it's hard."
Slowly, Chloe's thumb moved and he tensed, then relaxed as she clicked the safety back on and put the gun away. Chloe sniffed once and wiped her eyes. "Please don't hate me."
She patted her hand. "Never dear. These are strange times we are in."
As they left the park, arm in arm, she thought A scene from a movie that a Proper Christian would never admit to seeing. Dear me. Mysterious ways, indeed.