Excerpt from “The Champion”


Here’s a brief look at the first book in my Champion series, set to come out next summer:

That night Harris couldn’t sleep, so after Katya was pleasantly snoring, he got up, got dressed and drove down to the church. He felt like Alice in Wonderland. The more he investigated, the more he looked for hard facts, the more surreal the whole situation became.

Harris entered the darkened sanctuary and immediately felt like turning some lights on. He knew that God was very close, yet now he knew that evil was close as well. And he had a hunch that he’d receive another visit tonight.

Harris waited for about fifteen minutes; for what, he wasn’t sure. But when his visitor did come, he was totally caught off-guard. The locked metal double doors leading from the church lobby to the parking lot began to rattle, as if someone were trying to open them, or were trying to get his attention. Considering how easily the Messenger had arrived before, Harris doubted that this was him.

He pushed the crash bar and opened the left side. At the edge of the darkness outside stood an elderly man dressed in some stained, torn coveralls. The man held a floppy hat between two hands and looked up at Harris from a grizzled, weather-beaten face.

The church had seen its share of panhandlers, homeless, and families just down on their luck. They weren’t far from Reno, and casinos and other gambling spots scattered throughout the desert did their best to destroy the finances of a lot of families. Harris was used to taking needy people to breakfast, lunch or dinner, and stocking their waiting automobiles up with either gasoline or canned food from their Community Services stores.

At first glance, this guy looked to Harris like more of the same. Then he looked into his clear, grey eyes and recognized the first look of ageless maturity that he’d seen in the 16 year old’s eyes two nights before. It was him.

Harris paused, then peered skeptically at the visitor.

“You’re him. Aren’t you? The Messenger, I mean?” The old man stared back with a faint smile, then nodded quickly.

“I know it takes some getting used to,” he said to Harris. “Over the years I’ve appeared to countless humans in countless situations. And each time I have had to take on a form appropriate to the occasion. When you do that so much, you get used to changing your appearance just as a human would change clothes.”

Harris continued to stare.

“Oh, come on, Harris,” he chuckled. “Most people never get a visit from heaven—at least that they’re aware of—and you’ve had two. Plus you got a glimpse of the real me. If you can’t get past changing physical form—which is highly overrated—how will you deal with the rest of it?”

Harris blinked, and shook himself.

“Right.”

“I see you’ve been doing some research. What have you learned?” The Messenger asked through perfect white teeth.

“That hundreds of families—maybe thousands—are being financially destroyed by this company called Universal Finance. That no one can contact them or even find out anything about them. And that they’re dangerous.”

The Messenger smiled thinly. “Oh, you have no idea how dangerous.” He shook his head slowly. “You’ve seen the tip of the iceberg. And if you know anything about icebergs, you know that ten percent is above the water, but 90 percent is below the surface. Want to see what lies beneath those waves?”

Harris looked at The Messenger seriously. “I don’t know. Do I?”

The Messenger stared at him beneath bushy eyebrows as if trying to read something written on his soul. “Have you changed your mind? Perhaps you’ve learned that when you ask God for something, He takes your request seriously?”

Harris suddenly felt at a loss for words. “What if…what if I don’t…can’t….”

“What if you decide you can’t do the task that God has given you? Will He love you any less?” The Messenger reached out his hand and held his open palm against the side of Harris’ head. “I think you know the answer to that.” And he did. God couldn’t love him any more than He did right then. But Harris also knew that he would be losing out on something special if he refused to be used by God.

“You need to decide right now if you want to continue with this,” The Messenger said to Harris, his hand still resting against his face. “If you don’t, things will go back to the way they were. If you do continue, don’t be surprised if things get worse than you could ever imagine.”

As they stood together in the foyer of the church, Harris took a deep breath and let it out. He realized that his involvement with this involved Katya as well. And yet, she knew what was going on. He made his decision.

“God has opened the door for me,” Harris said. “I can’t do anything but go in.”

“Very well,” The Messenger said. “You’ve made your choice, but other choices will need to be made too.” The grizzled stranger walked up the center aisle of the sanctuary and climbed the steps onto the church platform, and Harris was amazed at how natural it seemed for him to be up there.

“What do you know of the story of Elijah?” The Messenger asked.

“You kidding? I’m a pastor,” Harris said. “His story starts with his arrival before Ahab, king of Israel, to tell him there would be a drought until he said otherwise.”

“And why did he do this?”

“Because Ahab led the country in worship of the false-god Baal.”

The Messenger nodded.  “And how did the confrontation end?”

“Elijah invited the priests of Baal to the top of Mount Carmel where he challenged them to a test…sort of a barbeque. The first side that could get their god to light their sacrifice on the altar would win. It would show that their god had the power. Elijah won because our God exists, whereas Baal doesn’t.”

“Wrong,” The Messenger said. “I should know. I was there.” He strode swiftly forward and grabbed Harris’ wrist, his eyes wide with energy. “Watch and learn!”

Harris felt a moment of disorientation, when he felt that the universe had been turned on its side. Then he looked down on a bleak landscape. He could see figures, humans, gathered on a mountaintop far below. The terrain was barren like the moon, and the sky around him was deep blue without the hint of a cloud.

The sky was cloudless, yet Harris was tempted to rub his eyes, for there were strange shapes floating, swirling, here and there. Brilliant points of light hung above the ground at different altitudes. The lights rolled through the sky like fireflies, some touching near the earth, other soaring high over his head.

Then Harris noticed the lights contrasted with dark patches; places in the sky that reminded him of how he imagined a black hole might look. When he looked into the darkest patch, he felt a pang of depression and failure.

Although he was high above the earth, he felt no motion. He turned and saw that The Messenger, brilliantly shining, still held his wrist.

“What is this I am seeing?” he asked.

The Messenger’s face shone. “This is Elijah on Mount Carmel, as I remember it. You are seeing good and evil as they are, more or less. But perhaps you prefer a more traditional view of the conflict.” He waved his hand and the scene changed.

Suddenly Harris felt the motion of flying through the air. Around him, wisps of black and white swirled like feathers caught in a whirlpool. And suddenly he realized that they were not feathers. They were angels. And the wisps were massive in size.

And there were a lot of them. Thousands, in fact. The sky was full, and there seemed to be some sort of conflict going on.

“Incredible,” Harris said, relaxing a little bit, but not too much. “Is every angel’s memory this vivid?”

“Yours would be too, but thousands of years of sin have corrupted your minds,” he said. “Look over there.” Harris looked where he pointed at a giant red figure, struggling against countless white angels who held him back. Harris looked back at The Messenger.

“That is Baal,” he explained. “His name in heaven was different. Baal means ‘Lord’. He’s chosen the path of rebellion. He’s a mighty power to be dealt with, for he’s one of Satan’s chief lieutenants. He has sixty-six legions at his command.”

“Sixty-six legions,” Harris repeated, adding in his head. “That’s more than 360,000 angels.”

“Evil angels,” The Messenger corrected him. “Or demons, if you prefer.” He looked up at the massive demon that it took hundreds of angels to hold back. “They gain their strength and status when they can convince humans to worship them. That’s why this conflict is so important.”

Harris looked below him and saw that the priests of Baal had been cutting themselves and calling upon the restrained demon to set flame to their sacrifice. As Harris watched, a lone figure told them to clear out of the way.  He suspected that the simply dressed man must be Elijah, and he longed to get a closer look at him.

As if in response, The Messenger bolted out of the sky and carried him to within a few yards of the long-haired, bearded Elijah. Harris watched as servants carried water and poured it over the dead animal that Elijah had laid on his altar. Then he knelt simply and prayed silently to God.

Except from the perspective of angels, the prayer was not silent. It ripped through the atmosphere like a sonic boom and made the demons around them scream and clutch their ears. They began to fly higher and higher in a spiral, as if to escape the prayer words that blasted against their ears like a gong. Then a cry went up, which turned into a blood-curdling scream.

Above Harris the sky opened, and he saw what must have been the gates of heaven. Harris knew that no words can ever describe it. But before he could even get a conscious fix on it, something brilliant began to pour through those gates. It was fire.

A stream of fire fell from the sky, and his hair stood on the back of his neck.

“Behold the glory of the Lord!” The Messenger shouted, and he was joined by a thousand others. The fire roared through the atmosphere like a comet, and boomed into the old stone altar and sacrifice below them. It devoured everything it touched.

As one, those who had worshipped Baal fell to the ground and proclaimed God as Lord and Master of all. And as Harris watched them begin to worship the True God, the strength of the demon called Baal visibly diminished until he vanished from sight.

“Is he gone? Dead?” Harris wondered aloud.

“No, not dead,” said The Messenger. “Not until the Lake of Fire at the end. But he has lost power for now.” The angel looked at the place that had been occupied by the monster demon. “He gains strength when he’s worshipped.”

The Messenger looked at Harris seriously. “Remember what you’ve seen here.”

Harris looked back at him, dumbfounded. How could I ever forget what I’ve seen?”

“I’m grateful to you for showing me what you have,” Harris said to The Messenger. “But what does this have to do with the task God has for me?”

The Messenger carried Harris high above the earth, and Harris watched as God’s angels chased random demons from the sky.

“This man you investigated, this Kenneth Deke,” the angel said slowly.

“Yes?” Harris responded curiously. “He’s the man in charge of Universal Finance.”

“He is not in charge,” The Messenger said. “Baal is.”

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