K. A. Laity
Michael snapped open his folding-table by the exit of "It's ASmall World," one of his favorite spots, despite the risk. Thescissoring legs telescoped toward the pavement and locked with apleasing thwack. Other children, some younger, eyed himsurreptitiously, waiting for the show to begin before committing tothe spectacle.
In a single practiced motion, he slipped the heavy book fromthe crook of his elbow to the slanted table-top where it opened atwill. Not by my will, but by Thy will, Michael repeated silentlywith satisfaction. He shaded his eyes to scan the well-tannedpages. His smile broadened.
The "Small World" theme stuttered from the swinging exit door.Michael lifted his face and hands to begin. "Save me, O God, byThy name, and judge me by Thy strength. Hear my prayer, O God;give ear to the words of my mouth." A handful drew near, curious,though many more hurried past. "For strangers are risen up againstme, and oppressors seek after my soul." A sigh grew in his breast;so soon? The blue uniforms were understated but unmistakable asthey approached from either side. "He shall reward evil unto mineenemies: cut them off in Thy truth. I will freely sacrifice untoThee --"
A hand, gentle, but with an implicit promise of pain claimedhis shoulder. "Come along with us, son." Michael squinted intothe sun, a finger still marking his place. Another pair of handsslapped the book closed and lifted the table abruptly while itsqueaked its feeble protests. "Go on, folks, enjoy the park."
"Michael, we've had this talk before." The former SergeantWagner was in his forties but he carried a good ten years more inhis brow and the rippling veins of his hands, thought Michael inhis seat opposite that desk a few minutes later. The Lord couldlighten his heart, but those eyes revealed a man too proud to ask."I'm going to have to call your mother, I know it won't do anygood, but she ought to know." The sad hand reached for the phonein its cradle.
"Can I tell you something?"
A wince, but the hand gripping the receiver halted its arc."Does it have to do with the Good Lord?"
Michael smiled with sweet pity.
"Go on, son."
"The world is ending. The time is at hand: 'Repent or elseI will come unto thee quickly and will fight against them with thesword of My mouth '."
"Boy, do you ever get to school? A real school? See otherkids, maybe play with 'em?"
"There is no time -- I have had to put away childish things.I have been chosen to lead the survivors from the desert -- "
"You've got some sympathy from me, kid, because your motherseems nuttier than a fruitcake and your dad's passed on -- "
"Chosen, and taken home." Pride radiated from the boy, butfailed to thaw his oppressor. Wagner started punching the numbersthat would connect him to Glendale when the first tremor seized theroom. The receiver clattered down and the old cop's hands grippedthe edge of his desk. "Damn San Andreas! Pardon my French, son."Born and raised in the Twin Cities, Wagner had never reallyreconciled himself to the existence of earthquakes. This one wasgrowing. Sweat rushed out of his pores and he covered hisblossoming panic as usual by barking orders. "Under the desk!Quick now!"
Reluctantly Michael joined him. The big man had patches ofdamp encircling his arms and beads of sweat glistening above hiseyebrows. The boy felt only excitement. "These are the signs Johnspoke of -- soon the sky will be growing dark, the end is near,the time of deliverance!"
"Hush, now. Don't go getting crazier, kid." Skies always getdarker during an earthquake, right? Wagner hunched over to glanceout the window. The desk buffeted them between its sturdy legs andthe quake's roaring increased. The window revealed a bruised andbloodied sky. "Oh God," whispered Wagner. Michael hugged himself.Below a ripping scream grew, disgorging itself in violent shudderand groan next to them as the floor opened in a gaping maw, itsdepths invisible in the darkness.
"It's here. HE's here!" Michael wriggled out and wobbled tohis feet on the shifting floor. Wagner's heart leaped up behindhis tonsils and he grabbed blindly for the boy's legs, graspingenough material to halt his sprint toward the crevice. Michaelhowled as Wagner dragged him back to safety.
"You are blind, heathen! God calls us to Him, to see Histerrible glory -- "
Wagner told himself the slap was to calm a hysterical childbut the satisfaction he felt was undeniable, though immediatelyreplaced by shame. He turned away. The sky menaced him as if inretribution. "It won't be long now, kid. These things don't lastall that -- "
He didn't even see the kid's hand until it was too late and hewould see nothing ever again. He could not do more than gasp andsputter and helplessly raise his own hands to bathe in the blood.A strangled whimper scratched his throat, "My.... eyes... you...took... my...."
"God has called! You turned away and so lost the right tolook upon His face," the boy's voice was going farther away, butthe roaring was louder and Wagner felt a heat that was not hissweat or fear. Panicking, he scrambled toward the voice on hishands and knees, cringing in terror when he inadvertently landed aknee on a lost eyeball with a small exploding 'pop'.
"Don't leave me!" And suddenly his hand was reaching for thefloor and finding only air and he was falling, feet pumping invain, arms flailing hopelessly, falling and screaming andscreaming all the more when he knew that the fall would not end.