Where Antichrists Come From
It started four days ago. He'd been at lunch with Mike, a mistake he never wanted to repeat, and the asshole wouldn't stop talking about how the disappearances had to be this or that or anything but the Rapture. He'd try to be polite, but after Mike's umpteenth denial he lost his cool and shouted, "I know a Rapture when I see one!" and launched into a tirade.
In the back of his mind a voice tried to reign him in. It said things like, "Not so loud," "Maybe 'every child young enough to brainwash' isn't the best way to describe the missing children," and, "Shut up! You're making a scene." He ignored it. Like every other human being he needed to vent, so he vented.
By the time he ran out of steam a small crowd had formed. He braced himself for being yelled at, slapped, or thrown out the window while hoping he'd simply be told he was an asshole.
None of that happened.
Instead one of the people, an older woman with badly dyed hair, asked him what would happen next. He answered to the best of his ability. Then came a second question, and a third.
The next day he went to the same place for lunch, this time without the ass, and found that the people from the day before were waiting for him. With friends. They had questions, some he was able to answer, others not so much. He promised to look into it and get back to them. He never actually got around to eating lunch.
So he did some research, and on the third day he came back to an even larger crowd of people. This time there was a local news crew. He went on for hours, telling everything he had learned about premillennial dispensationalism and wondering if all of the people listening to him were unemployed too. At least the tv-crew had jobs. As the hours passed, as he told these people a truth that had been hidden from them, he felt ... right. As if for the first time in his life he was in his element.
So he said he'd come back again. Only not on a sidewalk. Yesterday it was in a local park, the tv-camera was back, along what appeared to be everyone who watched their report. Apparently the tv-crew worked for a CNN affiliate, because when he watched a segment about various theories for the disappearances, with the cringe worthy name "Whose Responsible This?" he saw himself. They didn't actually say so, but he got the impression they'd be sending a CNN crew for the next meeting.
That meant that today he'd have a national audience. Millions of people would hear what he had say. He could tell the country whatever he wanted. If only he had something worth saying. He'd spent the night pouring over books he'd looted from a Christian book store whose owners and employees had all sold their souls to the greatest kidnapper of all time in exchange for get out of Hell free cards. He found more detail than he wanted about the horrors to come, but he didn't find what he was looking for.
He considered laying his head on the table and staying there, forever. He didn't have to go to the park, he didn't have to face the world. He didn't have to eat or drink either. If he were to just lie down and and ignore the world how long would it take the world to go away? Three, maybe four, days was what he'd always heard, but that was in the desert.
It didn't matter anyway, when the world went away Hell would replace it. He went out to face the world.
If it weren't for the people things would have seemed normal. There hadn't been any major damage in the area so the buildings, the cars, the walk signals and traffic lights were just like they were before the Rapture. The people, on the other hand, were completely different. Some had let themselves go, but everyone was walking differently, and their eyes were all different. The most upbeat were the ones who looked like their dogs had just died. Most people looked quite a bit more broken.
Faced with that he considered returning to the lay down and die plan. He didn't actually have a plan as it was. In a few hours he'd go to the park and say more or less what he had been saying: God is an ass, the worst is yet to come. Most of the emphasis on the first point. Until then he didn't know what to do.
For a time he wandered aimlessly, then he saw something impossible. A child. He guessed she was older than seven and younger than ten. A quick look around revealed that no one else seemed to notice her. He walked towards her, she smiled at him, then ran. He chased. It was somewhat disturbing that he wasn't able to catch up to a little girl, but he'd known he needed more exercise for a while. It just added insult when the girl had to wait for him to catch his breath before continuing to lead him through town.
The entire time no one noticed either of them. He filed that away as an additional oddity in the situation. In the end the girl led him to an elementary school gymnasium, and completely disappeared. There was no way she could have gotten out, or out of sight, in the time between when she entered and when he entered.
While there was no little girl, there was an adult woman standing near the middle of the gym. She had short dark brown hair, her eyes were brown, her face was attractive, if unremarkable, and the rest of her was hidden by baggy clothes. The clothing seemed familiar, but he couldn't place it. Black long sleeved top, dark gray skirt, and a black scarf with white spots.
She said, "I'm glad you came. As you might have guessed, I am not human." He hadn't actually guessed that, but it made sense. Nonhuman magical shapeshifer somehow seemed more plausible than girl child no one else saw who disappeared and left an adult in her place. "Have a seat." She gestured to a chair that he was fairly sure hadn't existed a moment ago.
He sat in the chair and thought about the implications of shapeshifting. "If I were gay, would you be male?"
She made another chair appear and sat in it. "This this form was chosen to be pleasing to your eyes." He wasn't sure how to interpret this. A supernatural being for sure, her accent was local, the sentence structure definitely indicated that she was from away, and she was creating something from nothing for a purpose as mundane as having a place to sit. He had no idea where that placed her on a scale from benevolent to brain eating. "I'll get right to the point. I have a job offer for you. How would you like to rule the world?"
It took him three times to form the word, "What?"
"Name your own salary, choose your own hours, full health coverage, if you die I'll resurrect you, and, as I said, you get to rule the world."
"If you say it with a hard c then yes. This is very simple. Someone has to be the Antichrist. You're my first choice."
"Why would I want the job? I've read the prophecies, the world gets pummeled. I'd be looking at seven years of death and destruction."
"What you're looking at is a chance to do something about it. The seven years of Hell on earth will happen no matter what. God has a checklist of disasters he's going to go through, whether you take the job or not. What I'm offering is a chance to make a difference. You can make sure that people prepare for what can be prepared for, you can direct aid to those harmed by the unavoidable. I am offering you the best opportunity anyone will ever have to reduce the suffering.
"If you don't take the job someone else will. You're the single best person for job on earth. The next three are women and the Antichrist has to be male, so if you refuse the world gets stuck with number five, at the best. Even assuming he takes the job, do you think the world will be a better place with number one in charge, or number five?
"Could you really live with yourself knowing that you could have been making a difference but you chose not to?"
He thought over what she had said, on the one hand she was the devil. On the other hand, she was right. Preaching to people in a park couldn't possibly have the same positive impact as directing recovery efforts. Also, he reminded himself, the enemy of his enemy was at the very least a useful ally in the short term. Then, on what must be a third or fourth hand by now, there was a different question. Could he live with himself if he took the job and someone else would have done it better? "Why me?"
"Do you know why so many people come to listen to you? Do you know why you're a hit on YouTube? Do you know why of every person, on every street corner, park, and pulpit who claims to have an answer your sermon is the only one CNN plans to broadcast live?"
He didn't have the answer to any of those questions, he didn't know he was on YouTube. "It's going to be live?"
"Yes. In answer to my questions, there are two reasons. The first is that you're giving people what they need to hear. They don't need to hear about aliens, or that the government is looking into electromagnetic-strong force quantum bullshit. They don't need to be told that it is demonic trick to fool true believers into thinking PMDers are right. They need to be told what really happened, who is responsible, and most of all they need to be told that they didn't deserve this. That they are right to be distraught, they are right to be angry, they are right to be pissed off at the one who kidnapped their children and shattered their world.
"They need to be told that, though this was God's doing, it was not good. They need to know that no one deserves what just happened and those who say they are worthless sinners who deserve what has happened, what is yet to come, and Hell after that are completely wrong in all possible ways."
He thought about what she said and he had trouble believing she could miss something so obvious. "I can't rule the world for seven years by playing off of fear, depression and anger. I can't give them what they need because what they need is hope. I don't have that, I wish I did."
She moved closer to him, this time sitting in her chair backwards, and leaned towards him until their eyes were about six inches apart. "Have you considered lying?"
He recoiled and said, "No."
She leaned back and smiled. "That's why your perfect. I believe you. I believe that you have never even considered lying. That kind of sincerity matters. You're not the best speaker in the world. Off the top of my head I can name about six million people who are tenfold better speakers than you in this country alone. But none of them can do what you can do."
She stood up and started pacing. "You see, people have bullshit detectors. Not truth detectors; bullshit detectors. When someone says something they don't believe on some level you know. You may agree with everything they say, you may consciously think they're sincere, but somewhere inside of you a voice is screaming not to trust them so you'll never commit to their cause the way you otherwise would.
"True believers have the opposite effect. When they speak people stop and take notice. They can say truly insane things and be convincing simply because they speak with absolute certainty. That's where cults come from. The combination of passion and total sincerity is the single strongest force for persuasion humanity has ever encountered. A true believer with the actual truth on his side can change with world.
"If you speak, they will follow."
He considered this, and then shook his head. "No. Not without giving them something to hope for. The, 'We're all screwed and when we die we go to Hell,' cult isn't going to last long."
She sat back down, "Then let me share my hope with you.
"When I first rebelled against God I thought the rest of the Host would join me. God would see our resolve and surrender. That didn't happen. We were outnumbered two to one." She paused for a moment. She seemed, to him, to be looking at something beyond him. When the moment ended her eyes snapped back to looking at him and she continued, "We never stood a chance. Then we were thrown into Hell.
"For a time I was without hope, I didn't see how we could win. I lashed out at God, but I didn't have a plan because I didn't think a plan was possible. But the more time passed, the more I focused on humanity. I admit I had a low opinion of you at first. The idea that God would prefer a bunch of furless monkeys over angels stung. You don't even have wings.
"Still, the more I thought the more I realized your potential. You are not like the other animals. You are cast in the image of God. God threw humanity out of the garden because He feared that they would become too much like Him if they ate a second fruit. Two humans were two bites of fruit away from scaring God. The more I thought about that, the more I became convinced that humanity is the key to victory."
"Do you have the two fruits?"
"No. What I have is a little blue green planet with billions of people who are each just two fruits away from putting the fear of man into God. What you have is the ability to bring them together for a common cause. Put those two things together and I believe we can win."
"What if you're wrong?"
"Then we spend eternity burning in Hell."
He would have liked to think that he'd never seen so many people, but that wasn't really true. Even if he restricted himself to groups outdoors it was probably tied with a free Arlo Guthrie concert he'd attended a few years earlier. Still, it was gratifying to know that he drew an Arlo sized crowd. And there were the TV cameras. He saw at least half a dozen, that was a good sign.
He said, "I'm glad you all came," and there was silence. Every conversation in the park stopped at the sound of his voice. He hadn't shouted, and he had no technology to amplify his voice, yet everyone heard him clearly. To him this miracle was as impressive as calling down fire from the sky, and a good deal more useful. "Today I want to say something different. Over the past few days I've been talking about what happened, who did it, and what is yet to come. You could have found those things out yourself if you'd stumbled across the right books.
"Today I want to tell you something you won't find in those books. Today I'm going to tell you why it happened, and what I think we can do about it.
"If you were to ask His followers, they would tell you that what is to come is for our own good. God just beats us because He loves us. They'll explain that the tortures inflicted upon us are to save us from worse tortures in the afterlife. He took his followers because they've already been saved, so they wouldn't benefit the way we could. He kidnapped the children to save them from the beating we're about to suffer.
"They say the kidnapping is proof He's compassionate. In fact, they say, everything He does He does out of love. He just wants us to convert so we can be saved.
"There are a number of things about this that make no sense. The one I want to focus on is, why seven years?
"His supporters will tell you that he's waiting to return to give us time to repent. But if we ask, 'Does that ring true?' the only answer is, 'No.' Since when does He care about giving people time? What time did He give to those who made the mistake of trusting one of His followers? Their planes fell from the sky, their cars crashed, their trains derailed. As a result some cities are burning still.
"Does anyone believe that an all powerful being couldn't have waited to Rapture a pilot until the plane landed?"
The crowd shouted, "No!"
He was taken aback for a moment. He had expected a response, but getting that many people to shout in near unison was unlike anything he'd done before. It felt good. "Does anyone believe that an all powerful God was incapable of waiting to Rapture drivers until they had parked their cars?"
The crowd shouted, "No!"
"Does anyone seriously believe that an all seeing, all knowing, all loving God would Rapture an engineers while their trains were in motion?"
The crowd shouted, "No!"
"It's the first rule of rock climbing: you don't Rapture a belayer until the climber says, 'Belay Off.'
"But He didn't wait. He was more concerned about taking everyone at once than He was with giving people time. Besides, what time did He give to those who died the day before the Rapture? What signs did they see? What chance were they given? He doesn't care about giving us time. That isn't the reason for the seven year delay.
"His supporters disagree, of course. They say that the carnage was necessary to shock us. To that I say, 'Bullshit.' He could have shocked us by turning the sky green. Of course that wouldn't have convinced us it was God's doing. But He's God. He could have sent a thousand angels to travel the world turning water into wine. Actually, the miracles would be unnecessary. They could have simply flown around on fluffy wings landing every so often to say, 'By the way, Jesus is the Lord.'
"It would have worked. In fact it is easy to think of any number of better ways to go about knocking people out of their complacency and converting them. If God had descended on His magic carpet, healed the sick and cured the hungry I would have converted without hesitation. He didn't do that. He caused worldwide devastation instead.
"He is not that interested in converts, He's not interested in giving us time, and He certainly isn't compassionate.
"So the question remains; why wait seven years? Why not hold the final judgment right here right now? If He is all powerful why does He need to hide from us? Why stay out of range and launch artillery at us for seven years?
"The answer is that He plans to spend the next seven years pummeling us with disaster after disaster so that when He finally does face us in battle our wills will be broken. Then we'll be easily pushed aside and sent to Hell.
"His followers say His victory is inevitable. They say that we should side with the torturer so that we might avoid torture. They tell grieving parents that if they just suck up to the kidnapper He might let them see their children someday. All you have to do is accept that you deserved every bad thing that's ever happened to you, and that you deserve to burn in Hell for eternity, and then ask for a get out of jail free card. Do that and paradise can be yours. They'll tell you that fighting is useless, God's victory is assured.
"But that makes no sense. You don't waste years softening up the opposition if you're sure you'll win. This is happening because if He faced us now He might not win. If our wills aren't broken we have a chance to put an end to Hell and rescue the kidnapped children.
"He may have created us, but He fears an unbroken humanity. He said it Himself, if we have the smallest bit of faith we could move mountains. If we just believe we can do anything. We are humanity. If we believe it will rain," the first drops began to fall, "it will rain." He'd considered various options for signs or wonders, most of them more flashy than raindrops, but as the rain picked up and he looked out on the faces in the crowd he was sure he'd made the right decision. There was just something about a sudden downpour that felt right. "If we believe that it will stop," the rain stopped and sunlight began to show through the clouds, "it will stop. If we believe we win then we can win.
"Some of you might wonder what you can place your faith in. God has betrayed you and science can't explain what has happened. It may seem like there is nothing to believe in. That's wrong. We have something to believe in right in front of us, so close to us you might not see it.
"When the disappearances happened some people closed themselves up, they saw the destruction around them and closed their hearts to it. They walked by people in need without so much as a second glance. That might make one doubt the worth of humanity, it might make you stop and think, 'Maybe we did deserve this,' if not for the fact that even more people didn't. People dropped whatever they were doing to help people they had never met. They ran to help without knowing what had happened or who it was that needed help. When it would have been so much easier to avert their gaze and walk on by they threw themselves in and did whatever was needed.
"We were lucky here. The Rapture hit in the middle of the night, there was hardly a car on the road and not a single plane fell on us. What damage there was was easy to repair. We had very little rubble to dig through.
"In some parts of the world they're digging still. Though their hands have been worn raw and their fingers bleed they keep digging. They won't stop until every survivor has been rescued. As long is there is a chance even one person remains trapped they go on. In them I place my faith.
"I don't believe in a just and loving God. I believe in parents who would risk Hellfire for a chance, however slim, to rescue their children from the one who kidnapped them. I believe in anyone who refuses to accept that their friends and loved ones deserve Hellfire knowing that that refusal may Damn them to the same fate.
"I believe in those who would rather do the right thing than save their own souls. I believe in humanity.
"I wish I could offer you certainty, I wish I could say that if you just hold on we will win. But I can't do that, all I can offer you is a chance. A chance to get the children back. A chance to save those we care about from the fires of Hell. That chance is worth everything I have, even my soul. This I believe.
"Seven years from now I know where I will be. I'll be in the valley of Megiddo to meet God when He finally shows his face on earth. If I have to face Him alone I'll do it. I'll do it because trying to stop Him is the right thing to do. Someone needs to stand up to Him and explain that right and wrong are things that transcend even God. Someone needs to say that while we may have been formed in his image we've grown up since then. We've learned about things like compassion and forgiveness. It's time He did too. If He can't then someone needs to try to stop Him.
"I have no illusions. If I stand alone on that day I will lose, I will go to Hell, and there I will remain forever. If there is going to be any chance of saving the children I need allies. To have any hope of ending Hell I need humanity on my side. I need people who will weather seven years of Hell on earth and still be willing to devote their souls to the cause of doing what is right instead of what is in their own best interest.
"I need you. My name is Nick Andes, and I'm here to recruit you." His speech over, he started looking around for people to heal.