5. There’s a road and at this end love / Where the eagles fly when you’re done

—Stephen Stills—Love the One You’re With

John Mittney, successful hedge fund manager, putative savior of the Olympics, and staunch Republican, put one booted foot up on the square prop hay bale and smiled at the small crowd. “Corporations are people my friend,” he said with a twinkle in his slate blue eyes.

“No, they’re not!” shouted several in the crowd.

“Of course, they are,” Mittney said. “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?”

“To the Mormon Church,” screamed one man.

John was taken aback by the outburst. In all the hundreds of political meetings he had attended in this campaign and the one four years ago, nobody had had the temerity to bring up his faith. While Mittney acknowledged that some Mormon beliefs were outside the general Christian mainstream, he was a Christian and had struggled to remove any whiff of scrutiny of his religion from his political life.

 

In his brief moment of shock and fear when the heckler brought up Mormonism, John flashed back to his childhood. He was a miracle child, since his mother, Elizabeth, was barren and past 45 when he was born. When he was young, his father, Zacharias, told him that his birth had been heralded by the angel Gabriel, who appeared to his father in the hospital waiting room. The angel said that John would be the forerunner of the Messiah.

It was many years before John understood what that meant. If the Messiah was returning to Earth, then these must be the End Times, he thought. What would be the effect of Jesus’ return? Would the Messiah bring the Kingdom of God to Earth and peace and prosperity to humanity, ushering in the Millennium as his faith taught him? Or would there just be ruin, strife, and death? Looking around at the world outside his Mormon community, John was convinced that the Lord was planning on the latter. In Mormonism, the End Times were the key to the righteous being exalted, and to become God. The Earth would be cleansed with fire, Jesus would establish a true theocratic government that would last until the Millennium ended with the final battle with Satan.

Mormons were quite concerned with the End Times. Since only the righteous —meaning those who had accepted Jesus Christ and the Church of Latter-Day Saints—could enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the faithful attempted to qualify as many of their non-Mormon ancestors as possible by baptizing them by proxy.

As a young boy, John assisted in proxy baptisms of more than 100 of his forbearers, and later, as an adult, he assisted or attended thousands more with a fiery passion. His devotion to helping prepare his dead relatives for the Exaltation earned him the nickname John the Baptist, which John was ambivalent about. It was nice to be recognized, but the name had heavy connotations. Although he was quite devout, the fear and feeling of awesome responsibility instilled by his father’s angelic visitation gnawed inside him. The magnitude of this responsibility and his indulgence in masturbation—a serious Mormon sin—made him question his worthiness to carry out the prophecy. When his 16-year-old friend Frank committed suicide, in large part because of his masturbation shame, John was terrified—of being discovered, of not being discovered, of being unworthy in all respects. He was living a lie in a community that abhorred falsehood.

Thus, although John was outwardly the model Mormon, he had a complicated relationship with his faith, and avoided mentioning it or identifying as a Mormon. When he embarked on his career in finance, he often declined offers to go out to the bar with his colleagues by saying he was an alcoholic rather than declaring his religion. The truth was much more shameful to him than this manufactured lie. As he rose through the corporate ranks, amassing a fortune and garnering respect for his business acumen, he was less secretive about his Mormonism. Nonetheless, he continued to downplay the outward aspects of his religion.

So, when the Iowan heckler called him out, John was shaken to his core. Here he was, in his 60s, terrified that admitting who he was, in every sense of the word—a Mormon, a one-percenter, possibly a man whose destiny was to anoint the returned Messiah—would seal his doom. That things would only get worse if he went on to gain the nomination and then the presidency gave him night terrors.

It turned out that he needn’t have worried about the heightened scrutiny that would await him as president. His flippant “corporations are people” statement and a pair of incidents in his private life combined with a secretly recorded private fundraiser speech to sink his candidacy. When he lost the presidential race, John was devastated, but a part of him was relieved. The cup had passed.

In the aftermath of the election, John wondering if his father’s prophesy would ever be fulfilled. He had spent his life being apprehensive about what Gabriel told his father. Was it true? Or was his dad crazy? His father showed no other signs of being anything more than a successful businessman and politician. That was the legacy that John had taken as his mantle. There wasn’t a crazy or mystical bone in his father’s body. What should John make of his prophesy?

Thinking rationally, John realized he didn’t have too many more decades on the planet. Had he missed his opportunity? Or was this burden the result of some momentary mental aberration suffered by his father? Were these really the End Times? Would Jesus come back and initiate the Apotheosis? John spent the first year after his election defeat wracked by these doubts and fears.

To find meaning in his life, John decided to rededicate his life to baptism, of the departed and, if possible, the living. As he studied the teachings of his church about baptism, he began to wonder why many modern Christian sects had abandoned the original baptism, which was accomplished by the biblical John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan river. Convinced that convenience might have overcome tradition, he broke with the tradition of his faith—which involved immersion in a font in a church—and started planning to organize baptisms on the banks of the Virgin River near the town of St. George, Utah.

This site appealed to John for many reasons, partly the names of the river and the town, which was named after George A. Smith, a Mormon apostle, partly because Brigham Young had wintered there, but also because, to him, the place bore a striking resemblance to Bethabara, the site where John the Baptist had done his work. John had visited that site in the mid-80s while on a mission to lay the groundwork for what became Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. He had helped broker the agreement that enabled the construction of the center by suggesting that the church pledge to not proselytize in Israel.

John decided to build a campus for Brigham Young in St. George, with an associated baptismal learning center. He would teach there and baptize converts and ancestors in the Virgin River. He had time; he had plenty of money, but, first things first: he built a palatial home on a hillside overlooking the town. Money moves mountains, and the $4 million 11,000 square foot (modest by John’s standards) refuge was built in less than six months. The town fathers bent over backward to accommodate the relocation of Utah’s most famous living son to their area.

Of course, John’s plan to personally perform baptisms hinged on his being ordained. Although he had once considered the priesthood and had taken many relevant divinity classes at Brigham Young, he had not followed through to ordination. There was, however, one route open to him. Since he was a literal descendant of Aaron and a firstborn, he needed only to be called to service by the president of the church. John contacted some friends on the Brigham Young board of trustees and explained his plan to build an extension of the university in St. George, including his baptism education center. These men were opposed to ex cathedra baptisms, so John decided to talk to a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, the elders who helped run the church. His uncle had once been the president of the Quorum, so John knew he could use his influence to good effect.

John made an appointment with the Elder and showed up bright and early on a gorgeous Salt Lake City day. “Thank you, Elder, for making time in your day to see me,” John said.

“How could I refuse to see such an illustrious and influential man?” said the Elder. “Please have a seat and tell me the reason for your visit, but first, before we begin, how are you doing? That was a devastating loss for all of us.”

“Thank you, Elder. Yes, I was quite disappointed, and I confess it did bother me for quite a while. But then I realized that the Lord had other plans for me, and that’s what I’ve come to talk to you about.” John shifted forward in his chair to look the Elder in the eyes. “Let me be respectful of your time and get right to the point. I have a plan to increase the ranks of the faithful and to prepare even more of our ancestors for the exaltation.”

The Elder fidgeted a bit in his chair while contemplating John’s statement. Although John’s family was honored and influential in the church, there were those Mormons who looked upon John as a bit too . . . worldly. He had pursued wealth and influence perhaps a little too keenly, although his faithfulness and tithing to the church were beyond question.

“Please continue,” the Elder said after a moment. “What exactly do you have in mind?”

As John laid out his plan for the Brigham Young extension and the baptismal center, the Elder’s eyes became slightly hooded. The Elder thought, now what could be driving him to propose this project? Why pick a remote outpost like St. George to build such a monumental structure? And baptism outside the confines of a church? It just isn’t done. What would give him such an idea?

After John finished, the Elder said, “This is an ambitious project and I am worried about several aspects.”

“Please, Elder, tell me your concerns.”

“I suppose my biggest concern other than its scale is this idea of an outdoor baptismal structure. This is not done in our church as a regular thing, as you must know. Although it happens, it requires permission, and we generally discourage baptism outside a Stake’s normal program.”

“Yes, Elder, I do know this. But I also know that John the Baptist initiated the sacrament of Baptism in just such an outdoor setting. As we became more comfortable in indoor settings, our rituals moved indoors. Remember, Jesus preached on mountaintops and almost exclusively outdoors.”

“You make a good point, but I’m afraid I cannot personally sanction this aspect of your plan. You’ll need to take it up with the president.”

“I thank you for your counsel. I hope that I can count on your support when I do so.”

“We’ll have to wait and see about that,” the Elder said.

“There’s one more thing I would like your help with, Elder. I personally would like to perform baptisms.” The Elder’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Now, before you answer, let me stake my claim. I’m a literal descendant of Aaron. You may already be aware of that. And as you know, a literal descendant of Aaron may serve without counselors, if called by the President of the Church and ordained to that office. I am asking for your help in bringing this to pass.”

“You know I cannot accomplish this. Only through that one man who is His mouthpiece on Earth will the Lord reveal instructions for His church, and that means the president must call you. As you must know, scripture says, ‘a literal descendant of Aaron, also must be designated by this Presidency, and found worthy, and anointed, and ordained under the hands of this Presidency, otherwise they are not legally authorized to officiate in their priesthood.’”

“Yes, I do know that. I am hoping for your support. Ever since I was a young man, I felt called to the baptism. You may know that I personally was the surrogate for more than 1,000 baptisms of our ancestors and have thus saved them from the fire. I would agree to serve only in the role of baptizer, despite the fact that my lineage could qualify me to be the Presiding Bishop of the Church.”

The Elder was flabbergasted by John’s proposal. “It may not be as easy as you might think.”

“I am prepared to offer myself to the scrutiny and process that the President will provide. Will you support me?”

The Elder realized that John would pursue this dream with the same doggedness he had pursued elective office. “I may indeed support you if you can find others. I know your influence, and I know your passion for our church. You have my blessing to proceed to convince others, and the President, to build your baptismal and convene the priesthood upon you.”

“Thank you, Elder! You won’t regret this,” John said, standing suddenly and clasping the Elder’s hand. “Once again, thank you for your time. You’ll be hearing more from me.”

I will be hearing more from others, too, the Elder thought as John left the room.

Despite initial resistance to baptism outside of a church, and to his being called to the priesthood, John’s stature, both religious and secular, eventually persuaded the board, other influential Mormons, and the president of the church to ordain him and bless the project. He obtained an Aaronic priesthood and could therefore confer baptism on the living and the dead. By the time he moved into his new home, the construction of the center was well underway.

That left the last task: attracting converts and the faithful to his center. He stumped throughout the state and nationally, and soon the trickle of baptizees turned into a flood. As the crowds grew to fill first his makeshift riverside dock and later the grand stone baptismal that the river ran through, John finally became comfortable in his own skin.

 

John heard a rumor that one of the few surviving Nazi guards was living somewhere near St. George. What a coup it would be to baptize such a sinner and bring him to the light! And what a boost to his still-growing Baptism Center! John asked around and found the guard apparently lived in a closed movie theater on West Center Street in Kanab, about 45 minutes away. John got into his Maserati and motored east to Kanab. It’s funny, he thought. So many western movies were shot in and around Kanab, and now the town can’t even support a movie theater.

Arriving at his destination, John got out of the car and faced the blank marquee from across the street. Let’s see, he thought. How do I get in? John walked up to the double doors and peered into the dark lobby. Inside he could see the empty snack bar adjacent to the velvet ropes and the ticket taker’s stand, everything covered in a gray layer of dust. John tried the doors, but they were locked. He looked around and noted the winter grayness at the bottoms of the barn-board siding and the cracked concrete of the sidewalk. The town and the building had seen better days. He was walking over to the ticket window when suddenly a raspy voice from above stopped him in his tracks. “Who do you want?” John turned quickly, stepped back, craned his neck, and squinted in the sun to try to see the owner of the disembodied voice. The voice appeared to have emanated from a balcony next to the marquee. Finally, he was able to make out an old lady in a bathrobe leaning out of a second story window. He said, “I beg your pardon?”

“Who do you want? No one gets in the building unless I know who they want. I’m the conciurge. My husband used to be the conciurge. He’s dead. Now I’m the conciurge.”

“I’m looking for an old German gentleman . . .”

“Aren’t we all!”

“. . . and perhaps you’d be so kind as to tell me if he lives here?”

“Oh, the Kraut. Yeah, he lives in the back. Apartment 23,” the old lady said and then wiped her nose on the sleeve of her robe. “But you won’t find him there. He’s up on the roof with his birds. He keeps birds. Dirty, disgusting, filthy, lice-ridden birds. You used to be able to sit out on the stoop like a person. Not anymore. No sir. Birds! You get my drift?”

“I … uh … get your drift. Thank you, Madam.”

“I’m not a madam. I’m a conciurge!”

“So how do I get in?”

“Go around the back, and I’ll let you in.” John went around the back of the building and the door opened to reveal a truly ancient woman, hunched in a faded blue bathrobe. She ushered him in, and he followed her up the stairs, slowly. On the second-floor landing, she said, “Follow the stairs to the roof and you’ll find him.” Then she turned to dodder off toward her own apartment.

John climbed the stairs to the roof and found an old man feeding birds. But something seemed wrong. This man couldn’t be much over 70, and even a guard who was a teen during the war would be pushing 90 by now.

“Excuse me, sir,” John asked. “Would you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

The old man, startled since he hadn’t noticed John’s arrival on the roof, dropped the can of bird seed and swung around to face him. “Oh! You gave me such a fright!” His eyes narrowed. “What kind of questions?”

“Well, to be honest, I’d like to talk about what you did during the war.”

“The Vietnam War?”

“Erm, no, World War II,” John said, getting ever more puzzled.

“I was two when that war ended. Don’t remember much about it.”

“I’m sorry, sir, I must have you confused with somebody else. You see, I was told there was a man in town here who may have been a Nazi guard during World War II.”

The old man bent over in laughter, which soon turned into a ragged cough, sending him digging in his pocket for a handkerchief. When he had recovered, he fixed a beady eye on John and said, “I think you are much mistaken, young man. There is a former Nazi guard in town, but it’s a she, not a he. Perhaps you met her on the way in? The ‘conciurge’?”

John reddened in embarrassment. “But . . . how?” he sputtered.

“Heh, the Nazis were equal opportunity offenders,” the old man said. “The Aufseherinnen were female guards in Nazi concentration camps. There were a few thousand of ‘em. Ruha was one of ‘em. That schlub answered an ad in the newspaper looking for women to show their love for the Reichland by joining the SS-Gefolge. Boy, do you got it wrong!” The old man giggled to himself, turned away, and resumed feeding the birds.

Apologizing, John took his leave of the bird man and made his way back downstairs to find the concierge’s apartment. He knocked, and after a few moments, knocked again. Hearing nothing, he tried the handle. “Take another step and I’ll drop ya.” Ruha threw open the door holding an ancient Walther P38. “Oh, it’s you. Well, whaddaya want?”

“Just a few moments of your time, madam.”

“I’m the conciurge!”

“Right. OK. What’s the preferred mode of address when referring to a concierge?”

“Aw, you can just call me Ruha. Sit down. Toss some of that junk outta that chair there and make yaself comfortable.”

John looked around the dusty, cluttered apartment, which appeared to have been the theater’s projection room. There were a few distressed pieces of furniture—a small round wooden table with two paperbacks propping one leg, a moth-eaten couch with one visible spring, a couple of low shelves filled with books, and an old TV/VCR combo. There were no visible running water or toilet facilities, just a large basin beside which sat a few plastic ice cream buckets. A battered cassette player played strange music that seemed vaguely Middle Eastern, as did the threadbare rug that covered part of the floor.

On the back wall were two small, square windows covered by sliding doors, probably the windows through which the projectors had shown the movies. On the floor opposite each of the windows were four brackets that once anchored the projectors in place.

John regarded the overstuffed easy chair that Ruha had indicated and saw that it held a dirty bird cage, some fast food wrappers, and a disheveled pile of loose papers. John shifted the junk to the floor and sat down. The cushion exhaled an aromatic cloud of dust as he settled into the seat.

“Ya want something to drink? I can run downstairs to the theater bathroom and get ya a drink of water. I’m all outta beer.”

“No, that’s quite all right, er, Ruha. I’m not thirsty and I don’t drink beer.”

“Well, Your Highness, I ain’t got any wine,” Ruha said. “Anyway, what brings ya here in your fancy-schmancy motorcar to visit the likes a me?”

John paused to consider how to broach the subject. He assessed Ruha, a tall, scrawny, hunched woman with a shock of white hair sticking out in all directions from her scalp. Despite her obvious age, she radiated a vitality, even a sensuousness. Her blue bathrobe featured a large embroidered L and two ragged pockets, one of them torn. There was something odd about the garment; it seemed to glow when the shadows fell upon it as Ruha walked about. On her feet were what once were probably bunny slippers, but which now looked like dirty string-mop-bottoms. Around her neck was a unique and beautiful silver necklace, which matched the bracelets on her wrists. The expensive-looking jewelry contrasted sharply with her apparent station in life. Her lined face featured high cheekbones upon which the flesh was taut, although somewhat yellowed. This provided an incongruous setting for bright blue eyes that were now peering at him warily.

“I want to assure you, before I ask my question, that I have only the best of intents in seeking this information.”

Ruha clutched her Walther tightly.

“No need to worry. All I’d like to know is—well, I’ve heard that you might have been a concentration camp guard back in the second war.” Ruha’s eyes widened and darted from side to side. “Who told ya that?” she snapped.

John focused his attention on the pistol, which Ruha was waving in his direction. “Several people have mentioned that a Nazi guard lived here. It seems to be common knowledge. Please, Ruha, I mean you no harm. In fact, I’ve come here somewhat as a missionary from God.” At this Ruha snorted and leveled the Walther at John.

“State ya business, directly and without no foolishness.”

John held up his hands, palms out. “Ruha, if you are whom I seek, I would like to baptize you into the Church of Latter-Day Saints and ask you to help me in my work in St. George, where I have a baptism center.”

This was clearly not what Ruha had expected. “What?” she said in a confused voice. “Baptism?”

“Ruha, you may have heard of me. I am John Mittney, you know? I ran for president? Anyway, I’ve decided to dedicate the rest of my life to baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.”

“You are John, and ya baptize. Do ya pretend to be Yahya ibn Zakariyya come back to Earth?”

John blinked in confusion “Yaha who?”

“Yahya ibn Zakariyya, known to Christians as John the Baptist. Ya see I am Mandaean, not a Christian, and not a Jew. In fact, not being a Jew, and having blonde hair and blue eyes saved me during the cleansing.”

John by now was completely confused. He had expected an Aryan, possibly a war criminal. He’d never heard of Mandaeism. And this old lady seemed off her rocker. “I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with your faith, or your story. Perhaps you could explain?”

Ruha sat back on the couch and placed the gun between the cushions. “Well, it’s a long, sad story, and ya don’t wanna hear it.”

“No, please. I am fascinated to hear your story.”

“OK. Well, first, ya need to know about my faith.”

Ruha explained that Mandaeism arose around the first century after Jesus, but although its adherents revered Yahya ibn Zakariyya as a great prophet, they not only did not acknowledge Christ’s divinity, Mandaeans regard him as mšiha kdaba, or “false messiah,” who perverted the teachings entrusted to him by John. Not only that, Ruha explained, but Abraham and Moses were similarly false prophets. Mandaeans trace their ancestry back to Adam, directly from Noah through his sons Sam and Ram. Further, the holy spirit in the Talmud and Bible is an evil being to Mandaeans.

John, although listening quietly, was quite shocked by Ruha’s explanation. Jesus a false prophet? The Holy Spirit evil? This was hard for a devout Mormon to listen to.

Mandaeans believe, Ruha said, in a supreme formless entity called the First Life that is beyond space and time, but who expresses itself in the creation of spiritual and material worlds and beings. Among the worlds created by this being is our own, created by Ptahil, the Fourth Life, who produced it in his own image. Our souls are exiled into our world, Ruha said, and yearn to return to their origin in the First Life. Mandaeans believe that the Zodiac, the planets, and the stars influence our fate and are also places of detention after death before, assisted by savior spirits, we can rejoin the First Life.

In Mandaeism, there is a light side and a dark side, the Light World and the Dark World. The darkness is ruled by Ptahil.

“So, we’re souls in a prison, ya know? We believe in baptism, done by Mughtasila. Not just done once, but often, as often as necessary. Many call us Moghtaseleh, ‘those who wash themselves a lot,’” Ruha paused to make sure John had taken this all in. Her whole demeanor and speech had changed during her recitation, and she seemed more focused and clearer. She almost seemed like a different person while talking about her religion, not the wizened, blunt crone that she had been at first.

“Please continue, Ruha,” John said. “How did your religion affect your life in Nazi Germany?”

“Well, having blond hair and blue eyes saved my family from the Nazis, ya know? Most people think all people from the Middle East are brown and brown-eyed. As usual, most people are idiots, because many of us look like the Aryans, so we were spared the gas chambers. When I was 16, the damn Nazis pulled Jews, along with Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists, and socialists from their houses. My family was terrified that we would be found out, ya know? They decided I should join the Aufseherinnen, the female concentration camp guards.”

“Yes,” John said, “your colleague the Bird Man mentioned them.”

“That old blabbermouth fool! It’s a wonder the damned Nazi-hunters haven’t found me yet. Ya better not be one of ‘em!” Ruha glared at John.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” John said, worried about the gun. “Your secret is safe with me.”

“It better be. Anyway, my heart was breaking. I left my family and did the training. I learned how to punish prisoners and watch for sabotage and work slowdowns. I was assigned to Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp.” Ruha’s eyes began to moisten as she recalled the devastation she saw in the camp. “But, honest, I never hurt nobody, ya know? I just helped keep order. I never had nothing to do with no gas chambers. Just kept order in the dormitories. Honest. I felt bad for those poor women. I cried myself to sleep every night but making no noise because if we showed even little bit of feeling for the women, we’d get discipline or worse—get killed like them.”

John was saddened at Ruha’s story and gave her an empathetic look. “I believe you, Ruha. I do. It must have been horrible.” Ruha was now weeping, drying her eyes and nose on the sleeves of her bathrobe.

“So that’s my sad story. What is it ya want with me?”

John thought for a moment. He had wanted to baptize and convert a guilty war criminal to show the world the power of forgiveness, and of his religion. Ruha did not appear to be a war criminal, nor did John believe she was lying about her past. It was funny how completely he trusted her story, despite having just met the woman. The Lord has led me to her, he thought. Perhaps He is displeased with my ambition and has shown me a different path.

“Ruha, it is as I said. I would like to bring you into the salvation of the Church of Latter-Day Saints by baptizing you, and also by asking you to work by my side to spread the gift of the Lord.”

“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” Ruha sneered. “Why would I do that? Ya come here with your fine clothes and fancy car, and your flashy watch, and you say you want to help save me? And put me to work? I’m 90 years old. I ain’t got much time left to save!”

“Ruha, I believe the Lord has led me to you. Please, at least come back to St. George with me. You can live at my house—along with my wife,” John hastily added, as he saw the look Ruha gave him. “You can see how we live. You can watch the baptisms, and I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to. Please, let me help.”

Ruha, still skeptical, said, “I dunno. Seems fishy to me. I need to sleep on it, maybe for a few days. Good day, sir!” Ruha rose, grabbed her pistol, and waved John out the door, which she slammed and bolted behind him.

As John made his way down the stairs and walked back to his car, he decided that, since he had no way of contacting Ruha to find out her decision, he would stay in town for as long as it took for her to decide. Once in the car, he phoned his wife to tell her about the conversation with Ruha and his decision to stay in Kanab.

John had always been fascinated by Kanab but had never been in the tiny town where hundreds of films since the ‘20s were filmed. Some of John’s favorite movies used Kanab as a stand-in for the Old West, including Brigham Young—Frontiersman, and more recently, 1977’s Brigham.

John settled in at the Canyons Boutique Hotel, which, although not up to his usual standards, seemed quite comfortable despite the in-your-face Western ambiance. He decided to give in to the vibe and have dinner at Little Hollywood Land’s Cowboy Dinner Buffet.

John was quite used to being recognized in public, but for some reason he was surprised when he walked in and the host just about dropped the stack of menus he was carrying. A few spilled onto the floor and the host, now completely flustered, bent to pick them up. He only succeeded in dumping the whole pile all over the floor in front of the reception desk. “Let me help you,” John said. “Oh, no, Mr. Mittney, please I’ll get them.” John insisted and the two soon had the plastic menus back in their cubby.

“Will you be dining with us tonight?” the red-faced host asked. He was a short, stout bald man wearing cowboy boots, jeans, a white Western shirt with a bolo tie, and a cowboy hat cocked way back on his head, exposing a shiny forehead and scalp.

“Certainly,” John said. “I’ve heard good things.” The host about fainted at John’s little white lie.

“Wow. Wow. Wow. Uh, OK, I’ll seat you immediately. Right this way please.” They proceeded through the dining room, which featured long tables set end-to-end and covered with red and blue checkered plastic tablecloths. There were floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the parking lot along one wall and a buffet line at the end of the long narrow room. Every head in the place turned to stare at the celebrity, and many groped in their pockets for their phones to grab a picture.

Great, thought John. I’ll be here all night taking selfies and signing napkins. Oh, well, I guess I’m stuck now. “Hello, folks! Sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt your dinners. Please forgive me.”

“I voted for ya, John,” shouted a large gentleman sporting a 10-gallon hat. “Me, too!” shouted several others. Then the entire room burst into applause. John turned on his campaign smile and went up and down the tables, shaking hands and taking selfies until he had met everyone in the room.

“Now, please, folks. Please return to your meals and let’s all pretend I’m not here.” He flashed a big smile, turning up the lapel of his jacket and ducking behind it. The diners roared with laughter, as John took a seat facing the wall at the end of the room, next to the buffet table.

“What shall I get you, sir?” asked the host.

“You’ve been so kind. Please allow me to serve myself. I’d just like a green tea please.” John got up and filled his plate with buttermilk biscuits, cowboy beans and roast beef. He felt the eyes of all the room on him, but when he turned around to take his seat, the eyes snapped back to their plates. As John ate his dinner hastily, the man in the 10-gallon hat—which was clearly a recent purchase—sidled on over and sat down next to John.

“Mr. Mittney, I wonder if I could ask yew a few questions?”

John felt pinned between the man’s huge body and the buffet table. He looked the man in the eye and said, “I’m going to have to leave soon to attend to some business, but, sure, you can ask me one question, and then I’ve really got to go.”

“Well, all right. Thank you kindly. As I said, I did vote for yew, mostly because I couldn’t vote for no nigger, but I was just wonderin’. Do yew think you losing the election and all had anything to do with being a Mormon?”

John was shocked at the man’s language and the temerity of the question. What was this guy’s angle?

“No, I don’t think so. The issue of my faith never really came up during the campaign.”

“Well, do yew think it was because you’re not a Christian?”

John stared at the man’s tiny eyes, lost in a wide ruddy face. “The Church of the Latter-Day Saints is a Christian faith, sir.”

“Yeah, but don’t y’all believe that Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden were in Missouri, and that Jesus stopped over in Missouri on his way to Heaven? That don’t seem Christian to me!” Ten-gallon was starting to heat up. John grabbed his napkin, wiped his mouth and tried to stand to leave. Ten-gallon stood up, grabbed John by the shoulder and forced him back into his seat. “Yew just stay right there, you fuckin’ heathen!”

At once, 10-gallon was surrounded by several large, strong men who grabbed him and, despite his girth, frog-marched him out into the parking lot where they tossed him onto the gravel. John could seem them gesturing to the man, indicating he should leave if he knew what was good for him. The man’s wife and two kids slunk out of the dining room to join him in the pickup, which featured a Confederate flag decal covering the back window. Ten-gallon got the family in the truck and then did a big doughnut, spraying gravel against the big windows of the restaurant and putting a ton of dust in the air, before taking off down the road.

John was shaken by this encounter. Some of the other diners came over to comfort him, but he waved them off, saying that he was fine, that the other gentleman had a right to his opinion.

It took three days, during which John checked in daily with Ruha at the theater, for her to agree to his plan. During each of his visits, Ruha insisted on filling him in on more details about Mandaeism.

Ruha told John that when they die, Mandaeans go to the Light World, known as alma d-nuhra, that lies beyond a gate at the North Pole. There is also a corresponding Dark World, alma d-hšuka. The First Life created Second, Third and Fourth lives, which are called Yōšamin, Abathur, and Ptahil, who created our world. Abathur is imprisoned between the Light World and the Dark World and weighs the souls who seek to enter the Light World.

Abathur actually weighs the souls, she said. They must have the proper weight, not too light, not too heavy, to go through to the Light World. Abathur gave Ptahil the materials and the helpers, demons, to create the Dark World. Abathur gave one of Ptahil’s demons, Manda d Hiia, to Adam to infuse humans with sacred knowledge and protect them.

John’s brain goggled at the complexity and foreignness of this religion. Such a lot of intricate beliefs, he thought. But I guess learning about it as an outsider is no stranger than hearing about Mormonism would be for a guy like 10-gallon.

John had thoughtfully purchased a rolling suitcase, figuring that Ruha had none. When Ruha finally agreed to go with him, she bundled up a wad of ragged clothes along with several cassettes and video tapes, tossed them in the case, and they were gone to St. George.

 

Over the next few weeks, Ruha went from spending the entire day by herself in one of John’s bedrooms to cautiously agreeing to take a few meals with the couple. His wife, Lois, suffered from a variety of physical ills, but was always bright and friendly to Ruha, eventually coaxing her out of her shell to the point where Ruha joined the couple in meals every night and began visiting the baptism center with John.

After six months of living with the Mittneys, Ruha consented to be baptized as long as John would let her baptize him as well. John was at first very resistant to this condition, saying, “I have no desire to convert to your religion!” Ruha explained that, unlike Mormon or other Christian baptism, Mandaean baptism does not initiate the person into their religion but is a method of washing away sins. “It takes much more to convert to Mandaeism, Guv’nor. You can’t get away that easily, ya know?”

After many discussions, John relented, and allowed Ruha to baptize him in the Virgin River. Ruha said she required several things to perform his baptism, and that of others. When the day came, at the riverside, there was a white, looped-up silk banner on a cross-barred, wooden pole stuck into the riverbank. Myrtle was twined on the crossbar, and an almost invisible thread of gold was tied under it. A clay table holding bowls of incense and fuel sat on the ground. Also on the table were bowls of flour, salt, and sesame, a bowl containing a bunch of myrtle twigs in water, brass drinking bowls, and a flask of water.

John waited by the river for Ruha to appear. He was dressed in a strikingly bright white suit. Ruha arrived in a much nicer version of her blue robe, which John’s wife had helped her shop for. She walked serenely down the riverbank to the low table and recited the prayers for the day. Then she burned the incense and mixed the flour and salt with water to make a small, biscuit-sized flat bread that she cooked over the flames and ate. She then descended into the water and beckoned to John to follow.

As he had been instructed, John turned leftward around behind Ruha, and crouched in the water, fully submerging himself three times. Ruha then threw water from the flask onto John three times. Using her left hand, Ruha grasped John’s right hand and transferred him to her right side. She submerged him three times and then wetted a finger and drew three lines across John’s face from ear-to-ear. John extended his hand, Ruha filled it from the flask, and John drank. The two shook hands, and Ruha placed a myrtle wreath on his head while chanting the names of Yōšamin, Abathur, and Ptahil.

During this ritual, John got a vision that he was to create the Third Temple on the site of the Brigham Young campus. He left the river overcome with the feeling he was destined to do great things. His whole body was shaking. His wife covered him in a cloak, but John realized it wasn’t the cold that wracked is his body. It was something more.

The next day, John stopped the construction of the main campus hall, and over the next few weeks, recast it into a tabernacle. He told no one of the reason for the deviation from the construction plan, nor did he call the building a temple.

Seven weeks following his baptism, John and Ruha began baptizing together in the river. Over the next three-and-a-half years, the two baptized thousands of living and dead Mormons. They had perfected an almost assembly-line method of dealing with the crowds that often massed on the banks of the Virgin River. Each supplicant was baptized twice: first a baptism by John initiating or reconfirming them into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and a second time by Ruha. The baptized who asked were assured that the Mandaean baptism did not initiate them into a religion, but rather helped cleanse the soul. Nonetheless, the practice caused a stir among the elders of the Mormon church. Given John’s notoriety and increased stature within the church due to the thousands and thousands of new Mormons he attracted, none spoke out against it.

Because of the huge crush of supplicants, the pair spent long hours in the river and soon found that various adjustments in garb and foot gear were needed. Flowing robes were a bit of a hindrance, especially in the heavier river flow in the spring, but Ruha insisted on wearing her blue robe. John opted for white polyester pants and shirt. For better traction in the river, both wore light, quick-drying hiking shoes.

One bright summer morning, the two were attending to a small crowd of supplicants when suddenly a great flood of water, 30 feet tall, came roaring up river, washing John and Ruha 40 miles upstream into Zion National Park, into the left fork of North Creek, bouncing up the rapids, past Tabernacle Dome, past South Guardian Angel, past North Guardian Angel, deep into the mountains. John screamed as the torrent tumbled the pair, though they remained miraculously unharmed. Whenever the river turned sharply or narrowed, they were kept from injury, borne to the top of the flood, sometimes surging high over obstacles. Although John was terrified, Ruha maintained a curious smile as they rode on the flood.

Finally, they sped through a narrow tube-like passage and the water sent them sprawling onto a sliver of beach on the other side. Totally disoriented and woozy from the ordeal, John laid prone on the pebbly beach, dazed and overcome by adrenaline. He tried to calm his mind, which was whirling from the incredible journey on the waters.

The end will come like a flood, John thought distractedly. Daniel 9:26 is trying to come true! Are these the End Times? How else could this miraculous flood of water sweep us up the river, thousands of feet up into this place? But who is the Anointed One? John shivered from the cool air, and the fear that perhaps it was he who was the Anointed One of the Apocalypse. He looked skyward, searching for the promised sign that was to announce the Second Coming, and the angels that would presage His return. Oh, I wish I had gotten further in my baptismal work! There are so many LDS ancestors who will remain in the spirit prison. They won’t be part of the First Resurrection, thus never ascending into the highest kingdoms of the afterlife. John bent his head to weep for those who would be lost forever.

Suddenly he remembered Ruha. Where is that frail old woman? he thought. Has she survived the torrent? John looked around and found Ruha sitting comfortably on a rock several feet above him with an amused look on her face.

“So, Guvnor, this is a fine kettle of fish, eh?” The years appeared to have peeled away from Ruha and she now seemed no older than middle age. Her ever-present blue robe was dry, as were her hair and body. Her eyes were bright and intense with inner fire. She jumped down from the rock and strode up to John, cackling like a demon. “Bet ya never had a ride like that, right? Where in heaven’s name are we anyway?”

John surveyed his surroundings. The stream bubbled along the slender strip of beach at one end of a curving tunnel-like formation whose rounded walls gave way to a steep opening to the sky. The retreating water was draining quickly from the area, exposing glistening walls and revealing bright sunlight at the other end of the tube.

John pulled out his damp cell phone. Miraculously, it came to life when he turned it on. He activated the GPS function and brought up Google Maps. It took a while for John to find a spot in the canyon where the device could get a fix on the GPS satellites. “We’re about three miles inside Zion National Park and this must be a feature called the Subway. I can see why it has that name. It looks like a train could come barreling through that tube at any moment.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t,” Ruha said with a little laugh. “After that flood, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it did, ya know?”

John was flabbergasted by Ruha’s cheery disposition. They’d been tumbled and scraped, but mostly they rode the top of the flood on its winding path to this place. That they were essentially unharmed was a miracle. But Ruha can hardly contain her glee, John thought, while I’m terrified.

“What are you grinning about, Ruha?”

“Don’t ya know, John? It’s starting!”

“What’s starting?”

“What a conciurge like me has been waiting for all my life. It’s what in your religion you would call the Second Coming, the Apocalypse, the End of Days!”

John had just been entertaining the same thought, but to hear Ruha say it struck him like a punch in the gut. Reflexively, he sat down heavily on the sand. What if it’s really happening? How will I be judged? he wondered. I have done my best to be a righteous man, although an ambitious and perhaps a prideful one. Another thought struck him: He was going to meet Jesus! He just about fell over in the sand at that realization. God, my Heavenly Father, he prayed, I thank Thee for the blessings of my life. I hope I have pleased you. I repent of all my sins. I humbly plead with Thee, if it be according to Thy will, asking that Thou wilt forgive my arrogance, pass by my sins, and guide my actions. Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The prayer calmed John a bit, and he sat alone with his thoughts for a few minutes. Eventually, he said, “How can you be sure this is the beginning of the Apocalypse, Ruha? Sure, that flood was like nothing I would have ever believed to be possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s the End Times.”

“Believe me, Guvnor, it is. Ya told me your book teaches that the first sign of the Second Coming has passed, when Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith, right? Ya see, I am the conciurge for the demiurge. I was born for these times. I await my master, Ptahil, the demiurge of this universe, and it’s time for the reckoning.”

John, still in shock from all that had happened, was reeling. He recalled that Ruha had mentioned Ptahil when she was teaching him about her religion, but he still was a little hazy on what the demiurge was in Mandaeism.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m unclear as to what you’re saying.”

“I am slowly coming to realize that I am Ruha, not just in name, but in fact: the spirit mediating between body and soul in this evil world that my master, Ptahil, the Fourth Life, produced. This knowledge has been growing in me since I met you, and while riding the flood, it got stronger, and even now, it is becoming even clearer. I was imprisoned in this body and am now slowly awakening from its bondage. I remember now that I took mortal form to assist in the end of this existence.”

Wide-eyed, John stared at Ruha, who had begun to shine with an inner light. The years again seemed to peel away from her, her hair turning from silver to blonde as he watched. Either I’m hallucinating, or she’s completely crazy  . . .  could it be she is who she says she is, and this is the End Times?

“So why are we here in Utah? According to scripture, the Second Coming is supposed to occur in Israel.”

“According to your scripture, you mean. But ya said it yourself, we’re in Zion, Zion National Park. I guess the First Life is having a laugh at our expense!”

“Ah! Now that I think of it, it’s even more interesting than that,” John said, standing and panning around the map on his phone. “Not only has Zion been an enduring symbol of Mormonism, representing courage, dedication, endurance, and faith, but as I recall, Mormons named many of the places in this park, including the park itself. Early LDS settlers named Kolob Canyon—Kolob meaning a heavenly place close to God—the Towers of the Virgins, Prodigal Son, Tabernacle Dome, and the Three Patriarchs—named for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

“Zion is also the site of the second Jewish temple,” Ruha said.

“You mean Mount Zion in Jerusalem. True.”

“Perhaps this is the site of the third? Is there not a place called temple here?”

John winced a bit as he thought about his vision of the Third Temple, and his attempts to build it. He consulted his phone. Due to the very spotty cell coverage, he climbed partway up the canyon and disappeared around a corner. After some minutes, he returned. “You’re right! There’s a place called Temple of Sinawava, named for the Coyote god of the Paiute Indians who used to live here.”

“Then I think that is where we are called to go. My brain is still fogged, but I feel this is so. What else did you find out about this place?”

“It seems there’s a rock formation in the temple canyon called The Pulpit.”

“That’s it! Can you find the way there?”

John consulted his phone. “It would be quite a trek! It’s about four or five miles as the crow flies, 22 miles and 8½ hours if we hike the West Rim trail, or 38 miles by car, and we don’t have a car. Or decent hiking shoes.” John looked down at the quick-dry hikers he and Ruha were wearing.

“I believe we are meant to hike to the Temple, John. Let’s get started.” John, still wrestling to absorb all that had happened, fell silent. I am so overwhelmed, he thought. We’re miraculously washed away by a flood—miles upriver through some of the most treacherous canyons in the park. Not only are we unhurt, but Ruha’s not even wet anymore. I can’t believe any of this! It’s like a strange dream! And now she insists we spend the rest of the day walking to a so-called temple. John crumpled again to the gritty beach and cradled his head in his arms. Can this really be the Second Coming? After sitting for a few minutes, John sighed and stood back up.

The pair set out on the rugged trail. After a steep climb out of the canyon, they proceeded on the Northgate Peaks trail and eventually the Wildcat Canyon trail which, thankfully, was fairly level and easy going. The Wildcat was crawling with day hikers, and as they passed, John heard several talking about the weird flood in the North Fork. If they only knew how weird it was, John thought.

As he trudged on, his mind, still reeling from the shock of the miracle water ride, tried to come to terms with what had happened to him. They passed through wildflower-filled meadows and had several good views of the White Cliffs of Wildcat Canyon.

John finally had a decent signal on his phone. While they walked, he called his wife. As the phone rang, he tried to think of what to tell her. I can’t very well tell her that these are the End Times. I can scarcely believe that myself. The phone went to voice mail. John said, “Honey, I’m in Zion and I won’t be back for a while. There was a flood, but I’m OK. I’ll try to call you later.”

After a couple miles, they stopped at a muddy spring to drink before descending toward the dry crossing streambed of Wildcat Canyon. The tourists had thinned out, and they rarely saw people until they got across the canyon and climbed up to the West Rim trail.

Having proceeded in a northeasterly direction for the first leg of the trip, they turned sharply southeast for the longer part of the trek. After three flat and uneventful miles, the pair got their first glimpse of South Guardian Angel mountain. In Potato Hollow they stopped to drink at a spring, where both he and Ruha washed their faces. With her wet finger, Ruha drew three lines on John’s face, from ear-to-ear.

Then they tackled the uphill climb to Hammerhead Viewpoint and its views of Inclined Temple. They climbed again, to Horse Pasture Plateau and then took the Telephone Canyon Trail spur to save time and avoid the increasing crowds of tourists that slowed them down. At Cabin Spring, they drank and rested for half an hour. Again, Ruha blessed John with the water lines.

They made the steep climb down through the White Cliffs and the descent into the main canyon. Since it was mid-summer, there still was good light to hike as they switchbacked down to the Grotto Trailhead on the canyon floor. Thankfully, at the trailhead Ruha agreed to hop the park shuttle to its last stop: The Temple of Sinawava. There they took advantage of the toilet facilities and then stood in awe of the sight of The Pulpit, the taller and wider of the two towers across the river from the parking area.

“Here we are,” said John. “Now what?”

“Now we rest,” Ruha said. “We need to get across the river and find a place near The Pulpit where we won’t be found. There ain’t no camping in this area.”

Sighing, John wearily followed Ruha across the parking lot, and into the stream, which was just above ankle deep. “What are we going to eat?” John asked.

“Nothing,” Ruha said. “Today we fast.”

“Where will we sleep?”

“We can gather some grass and brush for bedding. You mustn’t worry. All will be well tomorrow.”

The next day dawned with a clear sky above them. But on the edges of their sight, all around them above the canyon walls was a ring of dark black clouds, threatening, and bursting with lightning. As near as they could tell from their canyon, the circle of blue sky was perfect, ringing them in the center. As they watched, the clouds began to flow, each in a quadrant of the sky, with darker clouds flowing in toward the circle, then lightening and flowing away along the quadrant lines.

Coming out from behind the Pulpit, the pair looked across the river and saw two men, one on the closer riverbank, and one on the opposite. The nearer man was clothed in rough burlap, and was turned away from them, so they could not see his face. The farther man, clothed in white linen, floated above the waters of the river and spread apart his arms and said, “The power of the holy people has been finally broken, and all things are completed. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will be damned to the Second Death and the Dark World. The seven seas that run high shall swallow them, but the righteous shall be lifted up.”

The pair looked up and saw a disturbance in the clouds. There appeared to be a multitude of dark figures swirling in the vortices of the quadrants. The winds howled as if the crowd were screaming in torment. Lightning and fire flashed through the clouds and between the quadrants.

They turned to look at the hovering man and he had transformed. His hair was now white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet radiated heat as if a furnace, boiling the river beneath him, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters as he said to them, “Do not be afraid. By the baptism of water, and the baptism of fire, you can speak with the tongue of angels. You are the Witnesses to the Exaltation, the two olive trees that stand before Ptahil, the Lord of the Earth. Should anyone try to harm you, you can devour them with fire from your mouths. You have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain, and to turn the waters into blood, and to strike the Earth with every kind of plague.”

My goodness, John thought. He speaks as if from Nephi, and Matthew, and Revelation! Perhaps the Scripture is coming true? John asked, “Will we witness the judgment of the Sons of Perdition?”

The figure said, “There is much error in the religions of this world, and this is a particular one. All souls will be weighed, but the decision is not about the final destination of each soul. Rather, as in your companion’s religion, which is also full of error, souls after weighing may be sent on journeys during which they can recapture their virtue by ascending through various spheres of grace, among the worlds of light and the stars of the Zodiac. Those who are beyond improvement, the Unredeemables—the Sons of Perdition as your religion names them—are sent to the Dark World and are no more. Abatur Rama d-Muzania and his flawed son, Ptahil, will soon be released from their bondage in the Earth so that Abatur can complete his contemptible task of weighing the souls.”

John was devastated by these remarks. As a true believer of Mormonism, to discover even one error in doctrine called into question the whole foundation of his spiritual life. His mouth was suddenly dry when he finally managed to ask, “So, the Church of Latter-Day Saints will not be established throughout the world?”

“This world is coming to an end. It was created in error, but the First Life will ensure that the good souls who were exiled to this world, and who are not beyond redemption, will rejoin It, if they are found worthy.”

With tears in his yes, John asked, “Will I see the return of our Savior, Jesus Christ?”

“As I said there is much error in the religions of the world. The man you call the Savior was inspired but was not a god. There are no gods as you have pretended to understand them. Only the First Life, which is formless. The belief of your religion, that the church originally formed around Jesus but became corrupted within decades of being established, is true, as far as it goes. But much of what you believe is error. Jesus was enlightened, and a whole soul, but he was not divine.”

John began to weep uncontrollably. He felt as if the rug had been pulled out from beneath his whole being. He crumpled to the ground and placed his hands over his eyes. Ruha put her arm around his shoulders and urged him to regain his feet.

The floating man said, “Stand by she who is the Great Mother and ascend to the pulpit of the temple of heaven to witness the judging of the living and the dead.”

John stopped crying and looked in astonishment at Ruha. The Great Mother? This woman, beside whom he had baptized thousands, now mysteriously unbent and clear-eyed, and no longer frail-looking? Ruha beamed back at him, her face transformed by an inner light. “I told you I am the conciurge. I assisted the demiurge, Ptahil, in creating this world. I am its Mother.”

John’s mind, already reeling, was coming apart. “Whoa,” he said, and began to lose consciousness. Ruha threw his arm around her shoulders and bore his weight easily as they turned away from the floating man and made their way back to the Pulpit.

The path to the top of the tower rock was a semi-technical climb, but luckily, its last climbers had left ropes and pitons in place. Ruha scrambled easily up ahead of John and helped him haul his way up the pitches until they reached the top of the Pulpit. Miraculously, at the top was an altar carved into the rock, covered with a fine white cloth with incense holders smoking on all four corners. Seven places were set on the table, with gleaming gold plates and utensils, and embroidered silk napkins, and dazzling crystal goblets.

“Who are these for?” asked John.

“These are for the Seven Kings.”

“Which kings are those?”

“The seven rulers of the world. Long ago they were kings, but today you might call them, um, er, what is the word? Captains of Industry? No, they are from various walks of life. There is a name, I think a medieval name, for a shadow government? Hidden rulers?”

“Illuminati?” John guessed.

“Yes! Illuminati. The Illuminati will join us for a feast.” John nodded dully at this latest shocking revelation and looking around, noticed there were now steaming tureens of soup, and fruits, beans, and vegetables on serving trays on the altar.

“If this is the feast, where is the meat?

“The Seven Kings are, of course, vegan. They are not permitted to harm an animal to provide their sustenance, for animals have their own special purpose in the world, to help promote the world’s bounty.”

John again nodded blankly and wondered at this for a moment. There was just too much to absorb. The Illuminati are real. Christ was not the Son of God. Much of the teachings of his church, if not all, were in error. Ruha was somehow the Mother of the world. As he tried to process these revelations, he was interrupted by a loud screeching cry from the sky. Looking up, John saw a huge black dragon pass overhead. He could see the creature had a hideous, a near-human face, and two horns like a lamb. Its head and neck were covered with curly white fleece in stark contrast to its jet-black body and shiny dark talons.

“Oh, my son!” Ruha exclaimed. “At last you are free from the Dark World! Come ‘Ur, and alight upon this pulpit so that I may caress you.”

The giant monster wheeled across the river and turned to alight on a rock outcropping at the outer edge of the altar. Ruha scrambled out on a ledge to hug his neck. “My son! My son! Oh, the prison of this body is slowly melting away, and now I can remember! I remember how together we birthed the planets and the stars of the Zodiac! I remember how you brought the blue to the sky of this world. And now you have been released! We can be together again.”

‘Ur spoke, and his voice was like a scream: “Mother! Glad we close again! How help I you?”

“You will have a role. But for now, be still and wait.” The dragon’s red eyes became hooded as he perched on the outcrop at the edge of the altar and loomed over it.

Ruha looked out across the river, to the parking lot, where a purple motor coach had just pulled up. It wasn’t the standard national park coach, but a private one. “Ah,” Ruha said. “They have arrived!”

“Who?” asked John, startled from his stupor, and terrified that there would be more shocks to absorb.

“The Seven Kings, the Illuminati! They have arrived.” Seven old men of various races debarked from the coach and stared at the turbulent sky. They appeared to be bewildered but were even more shaken when the floating man reappeared and levitated them across the river and up to the top of The Pulpit, landing them gently on the rich Persian carpet, each adjacent to his place at the altar. The waiting man from the near side of the river also appeared and stood in the back of The Pulpit.

“What the hell is going on?” demanded a bespectacled white-haired gentleman in a tight, navy blue V-necked sweater, white shirt and tie. Incongruously, he was clutching a ukulele, but from the attitudes of the others, he was clearly the leader of the group, all of whom were dressed more casually, as if they had just come from a round of golf.

“Not hell, not the Dark World, but it is the end of days, Spartacus,” Ruha says. “The final age is ending. You seven are to hold a conference to ensure that when the weighing of souls begins, the great shall not receive more honor than the lesser.”

The men turned to one another, confused, and began to murmur together, while turning their heads wildly, taking in the strange sky, the perched ‘Ur, and the splendid table before them. Not even the one she called Spartacus was able to gather his wits to reply to Ruha. He just goggled, open-mouthed, absent-mindedly clutching his ukulele.

“But first,” Ruha continued, “we feast. Please be seated at your places and let us break bread for the last time on this Earth.” Terror filled the eyes of the Illuminati. John watched them and commiserated. At least I’ve had a few hours to digest all this, he thought. These poor men have been plucked from who knows what golf course and plunked down in this fantastic scene. Yet they do seem to be taking it better than I did at first.

Indeed, these captains of industry, political masters, religious powers behind the thrones, and backroom deal makers were still carefully examining their surroundings, trying to find out what trickery lay behind this mind-blowing scene. They were looking for the wires that supported the floating man and the gears that animated the dragon. They took their seats warily. Before each of them, on the table on their left hand was a round tray containing a small water bottle; a cup of miša; fatiras; a drinking bowl containing four raisins; a twig of myrtle, grape seeds, and shreds of Ba, pomegranate, quince, dates, coconut, almond, walnut, and citrus. All were arranged around the tray in the positions of the Zodiac. A second tray on their right hand held a basin of flaming liquid and a stand upon which sat a cube of incense.

Ruha passed down the table, filling the seven goblets with blood-red wine. When she was finished, she raised her own goblet and cried, “As the water falls on the Earth, so shall all sins, trespasses, follies, stumblings, and mistakes be loosed from those who love the name of Truth, and from the souls of our righteous fathers, teachers, brothers, and sisters who have departed the body, and those who still live.” She nodded her head to the seven to encourage them to drink.

Next, she asked the men to drop the incense cube into the fire, saying, “All fruits wither; all sweet odors pass away, but not the fragrance of the First Life, which never ends nor passes away, as does this Last Age. The incense rises as our prayers do, to the First Life.”

Ruha then bade the men to eat, and she withdrew to the back of the Pulpit to join John. “Now watch carefully,” she told him. John regarded the men keenly, watching them whispering to each other nervously as they ate. Soon he noticed the hovering man drifting close to one of the seven and appearing to whisper in his ear. The man seemed not to notice the floating man and continued to converse with his companion. Eventually, the hovering man floated away. But the others had seen the spirit, and asked him, “What did the spirit tell you?”

“What do you mean? There was no spirit! I talked to no one.”

This angered the others. One said, “We all saw it. Tell us what the spirit said or die!”

“I swear! I see nothing! I hear nothing! I know nothing!”

But the others fell upon him and one stabbed him in the heart with a table knife, killing him.

The remaining six eyed each other suspiciously. Their eyes were now a bit glassy, and they seemed to be in a trance. The floating man spoke to another, and another, and each of them in turn, except the leader, with the same result: The others accused, and then killed the protesting man. The last turned on the leader, who, anticipating the attack, sliced his jugular before the other could raise his knife.

Only Spartacus now remained, shaking with rage and fear. He turned to Ruha and said, “Why have you caused these men to die? These were the most powerful men in the world! For decades, we have fixed elections, started and stopped wars, controlled economies, and bent populations to our will. How dare you?” The leader stopped to catch his breath, his face red with fury. “What is to happen to me? Am I the final king of the world? Or will you kill me next?”

“You all have met your deserved end, before the end of this world. Your rule over the world has been almost absolute, and while the Illuminati have sometimes governed wisely, you all have many sins to repent, especially you. No, I will not kill you,” Ruha said. “But my son will.”

The last Illuminati heard a rustle behind him and whirled to see ‘Ur unfold his wings. Spartacus grabbed a bloody knife and his ukulele and backed away. ‘Ur flicked his wings and was on the man in an instant. The leader of the Illuminati struck feebly with the knife and bashed the ukulele into ‘Ur’s head, but the dragon grotesquely unhinged his human-like jaw and gobbled Spartacus in a single gulp. John watched in horror as ‘Ur recomposed his face, licked his lips, and then flew, screeching, in ascending circles up to the vortex of the clouds.

“He is taking back the blue of the sky,” Ruha said. “It is almost time for Ptahil to break the bounds of Earth and for Abatur Rama d-Muzania to begin the weighing of souls.”

John shivered at what was to come next. How would his soul measure up on Abatur’s scales? And what caused a soul to have weight? Ruha had said something about progressing through various worlds so those who weren’t ready could purify themselves. And what was all this business about the Zodiac? Did this mean that astrology was actually a power in the Universe? John had so many questions, and an equal number of fears for his everlasting life, if there even was such a thing.

“What do you mean ‘Ur will take back the blue of the sky?”

“This is the first phase of the dismantling of the world. ‘Ur removes the blue, and then when people look up, they’ll see the blackness of space, the stars, the Zodiac, and the planets. The atmosphere will also start to dissipate until all the air is gone.”

“When people see this, they’ll go crazy.”

“Yes, this is one of the final tests. Those who react by raping, pillaging, killing and committing other atrocities will join that crowd.” Ruha pointed skyward to the swirling black figures in the quadrants surrounding the blue circle. “Those poor souls are the Unredeemables. They do not need to be weighed but will be sent directly to the Dark World. In life, they embraced the power of the Dark World, and so they will become one with it.”

John absorbed this and felt lucky that he had not yet joined the circling horde above. When he looked down from the sky, he noticed the bloody corpses staining the fine carpet. “Why did you cause the Illuminati to kill one another?”

“It was not I who caused their behavior. It was their natures. They were arrogant, competitive men, ambitious to a fault. The idea that one of their kind might obtain an advantage by receiving secrets from the Angel of Death drove them to their murderous acts. You noticed that their leader did not participate in the killings, except at the end when he was defending himself.” John nodded. “It was not because his soul was less stained than his fellows. It was because, to gain his position, he had needed to be in better control of his emotions, his envy, and his gluttony.”

“Why did he receive a different fate than his fellows?

“His sin was compounded by the fact that he stood by while his subordinates murdered one another. Such it is with his type of leader. He bore the greatest sin and, by controlling his followers, brought all their sins upon him. ‘Ur is delivering him to the maelstrom in the sky and thus directly to the Dark World.”

John thought of his own leadership. Am I that type of leader? Will ‘Ur come and take me next? He needed to sit down and moved over to the altar, picking his way among the bloody bodies. He sat at the table and looked out over the river. He noticed the two trays before him and examined the strange arrangement of foods on the left-hand tray.

“Is this place setting part of some kind of ritual?”

“Yes,” Ruha says. “This is the traditional setting for a Mandaean masiqta, or death mass. As the Angel of Death said, most religions have errors, but there are true things in most of them, too. Mandaeanism’s death mass is the most error-free ritual to initiate the End Times.”

Again, John felt a pang in the center of his being. He had led a life worshipping in a religion filled with error. “Is Mandaeanism the most error-free religion, then?”

“It is hardly worth thinking about at this time. You probably desire to know all the errors of your faith, and how it compares to other religions. But the First Life cares not for worship, or religious dogma. What counts is the soul’s ascent to the Light World. A religion is only as good as its ability to aid in the soul’s purification, so that it may make this ascent, which depends upon leading a good and true life. An example of an error in Mandaeism is the belief that at death, the souls of all Mandaeans go to the Light World, as long as they had a pure death and proper death rituals. This is not at all true. As the Angel of Death told you, all souls are weighed, and most must journey through purifying worlds before rejoining the First Life. As I said, the Unredeemables are sent directly to the Dark World.”

“Why is all this happening now? Is it because of the rampant evil in this modern world? Mormonism and other religions have long believed that crises, earthquakes and the breakdown of moral structure are signs of the end.”

“The First Life does not perceive events on this world. It is and always is. The fleeting lives of souls here are of no concern. Most of your religions ascribe a consciousness and personality to the supreme being and imagine that it has a hand in human affairs. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no hand of a god directing human affairs. And there is certainly no reality to the concept of a petty god who demands to be worshipped and who can be insulted.

“Souls yearn to be reunited with the First Life. However, there are only a finite number of souls in this existence. When I created the world with Ptahil and ‘Ur, we populated it with all the souls that ever were to be here. The explosion of the human population has meant that each soul has been fractured and contained, really trapped, inside more than one person. There exists a point beyond which a soul can no longer be diluted, and that has determined the end of this world. Had this world persisted for even another generation, babies would be born without a spark of soul, and would be relegated to the life of a vegetable. Thus, this world must cease to be, and the souls set free to begin their journey back to the First Life.”

John took this in and thought for a while. He only has a fragment of a soul. He will be judged and probably will need to pass through several other worlds to be purified before he can rejoin the First Life. There is no God. Everything he has been told is wrong. He heaved a great sigh, and asked Ruha, “So all my works, the baptizing, the building of the university, all are for naught? Has my life been wasted?”

Ruha settled into the chair next to him with a kind expression on her face. “Don’t you realize, John? You have been chosen. You are one of the two witnesses to the end of days. Your recent life, your devotion to the salvation of souls through baptism: these have redeemed your soul and washed away most of the imperfections that stained it. Even though my mind was clouded by my imprisonment in flesh, I saw the spark in you when we first met in the movie theater.”

For the first time since the flood, John felt a glimmer of hope. Perhaps he wasn’t doomed. He had been chosen to be a witness. But Ruha referred to two witnesses. Surely, she wasn’t one?

“Ruha, you said there are two. Who is the other witness?”

“The waiting man we saw earlier, and who stands in the darkness behind you.”

John wheeled around in his chair. The waiting man, still clothed in a burlap robe, moved forward into the light. He was short, swarthy, with thick black hair covering his arms and a curly beard. His long hair was thick and tangled, and his brow jutted over hooded but clear hazel eyes. Although it was a homely face, it shone from within, radiating a calmness.

“Who are you?” John asked, standing to face him.

“I am Jesus, the son of Joseph, the carpenter,” the man replied simply.

For the second time that day, John almost lost consciousness, and again Ruha moved in to steady him. “Jesus, the Christ?” John croaked, his throat suddenly dry as the desert floor below.

“I don’t know this Christ,” Jesus said. “I am a simple man who preached love and forgiveness and was executed for it. I had a small band of followers. It must have been long ago, for I have never seen such a magnificent coach as the one across the river.”

John at this point was almost catatonic. Ruha guided him back into his chair. He crumpled against the table with his forehead on the tablecloth and his arms folded protectively over his head. He began to weep.

I can’t take any more of this, he thought. Jesus was only a simple carpenter with a message of love, the Son of Man and not the Son of God? He wasn’t resurrected, just murdered by the Romans? And now he’s risen to witness the end of the world, not to preside over the Exaltation and the establishment of his kingdom on Earth. There will be no resurrections, no battle with Satan. My religion has been an error, and I am not prepared for what is to come.

Jesus walked over to John, compassion evident on his face, and laid a comforting hand on John’s shoulder. “My son, why do you worry so?”

John, startled at Jesus’ touch, sat bolt upright, inadvertently shrugging Jesus’ hand from his shoulder. “Oh!” he exclaimed, wiping at his eyes. Jesus just smiled at him. John could feel the man’s power, his goodness. “Forgive me, Jesus . . .” he began, and then burst into ragged, near-hysterical laughter. Jesus naturally was puzzled. “Sorry, Jesus—there I go again! You see, for the last two thousand years, men have worshipped you as the Son of God, and we have been waiting for your return.”

Jesus looked puzzled, and asked, “But why? I was but an itinerant preacher with a small following.”

“Well, how do I explain?” John thought for a minute. “OK, Jesus, you probably don’t know what the Bible is, but you did know the Torah, right?” Jesus nodded. “Well, your followers, and their followers, wrote a big addition to the Torah, all about you and your teachings. They called you the Christ—the Messiah—and they started a church, the Christian church, to spread your teachings throughout the world.”

It was Jesus’ turn to be astonished. “This is incredible! All I preached was that people should be nice to one another for a change, and they nailed me to a tree for it.”

“You mean a cross, don’t you?”

“No, they thought a cross was too good for me. They nailed me to a tree, an algum, I think.”

John just shook his head sadly. “I see. So, I suppose you never worked any miracles?”

“Miracles happen every day, my son. You just need to be aware of them.”

John, numbed by all the shocking revelations of the day, merely nodded his head. He turned to Ruha. “Why have I been chosen to be a Witness? Surely there are more righteous people than me left in the world?”

“John, as you know—and are very proud of—you are of the lineage of Aaron. And you may understand that, consequently, John the Baptist, which my religion regards as a messiah, is also your ancestor, along with Jesus. This lineage has been allowed to breed in such a way that the line has gathered together many soul fragments. Thus, your soul is one of the most complete still on this Earth. And that is why you have been chosen to be a Witness. In the same way, the ancient line produced Jesus, a complete, whole soul. The two of you were destined to be the Two Witnesses to the Exaltation.”

Stunned yet again, John pondered this new information. I’m not a fractured soul like the rest of the world. I’ve been, not exalted really, but honored in some way to play a part in the end of the world. This is too fantastic to contemplate.

“Does this mean I can expect a better fate when my soul is weighed?”

“Yes, John. Your journey to reunion with the First Life will be much shorter. There is less in you to purify. As the Angel of Death told you a while ago, you have powers now, to defend yourself, to stop the rain, to turn waters to blood, and to cause plague. You and Jesus will need these powers when the might of this world is turned against this place.”

“What do you mean?” At that moment, the blue of the sky in the circle above them disappeared and they could see blackness and stars. John looked at Ruha. “What does this mean?”

“It means that all on Earth who are awake now will see as the circle expands that there is nothing between them and the stars. They will also soon notice that the swirling clouds now above us are expanding from a center above this place, and they will come, many with terrible force, to see what is happening. You and Jesus must be ready to defend this place.”

“Is this the battle between good and evil prophesied by the Bible?”

“No. Those who come will come with good intent, to protect their fellows. They believe their force can stop what is happening in the world, and they are doing their duty. Their souls will be weighed in accordance with their lives, not these last deeds. There is no battle between good and evil. There is only good, and error.”

John was confused by this. “You’re saying there is no Satan?”

Ruha laughed. “I am the closest thing to your idea of Satan. I am charged with managing the Dark World. I am the Earth, and I built Jerusalem. When Adam was created, a substance of light from the Light World was embedded in his evil body, or Pagra. You call this your soul, and your job is to rescue it from the dark, and this world. This is the fourth and last age of the world, overseen by Noah with his wife, and symbolized by the flood yesterday. I am the mother of the evil spirits of the zodiac and of the planets. I am radiance; I am light. I am death; I am life. I am darkness; I am light. I am error; I am truth. I am destruction; I am construction. I am light; I am error. I am wounding; I am healing.

“But I am not The Adversary. There is no Satan. This world was created in error, and the souls in it struggle to seek the path of goodness, away from error. Some embrace error, and you call them evil. They are being prepared to enter the Dark World even now.” Ruha pointed again at the swirling clouds and the dark figures within them. “Once the circle of clouds expands to cover this world, it will be unbroken, and all souls will be weighed, and this world will be no more.”

John struggled to assemble his thoughts and put them into words. After several moments, he said, “How long will it take until the circle is unbroken?”

Ruha says, “The outer edge of the cloud circle is moving at about 70 miles an hour. The opposite edges will meet in the Indian Ocean west of Perth, Australia in about 15 days’ time. During this time, you and Jesus must defend this place. The edge of the clouds should reach Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas in an hour or so. The great crowd of Unredeemables in the Las Vegas area will join the clouds in the sky, rising into the air from wherever they are, and all will see the sign of the End Times. It will probably only take an hour or so after that before the Air Force identifies the center of the clouds and is in the air coming this way. We need to be ready.”

John and Jesus exchanged looks. Jesus said, “Do you mean we need to kill the pilots? I cannot do that.”

Ruha looked at Jesus fondly. “All on Earth will perish in 15 days. Those who die while we defend this place will die just as surely in two weeks’ time. But this place must be protected. It is the site of the weighing of souls. You must defend against planes, against missiles, against whatever force seeks to harm this place.”

Jesus wept. John was also brought to tears. The two men sat beside one another at the altar crying piteously for the better part of an hour. Ruha came over and spoke kindly to the two men. “It is time to prepare. The two most effective powers that you have during this time are fire and plague. You must decide how to use them to defend us. You can use the fire against the jets, but you may need to use plague against the armed forces yet on the ground.”

John flipped on his phone and searched for news from Las Vegas. He found a live news report on a local TV station.

“Las Vegas is now a scene of mass hysteria. People are rising up into the sky and disappearing to the northeast as ominous clouds and winds slowly blanket the city, shutting out the noonday sun. All over Las Vegas, cars have smashed into each other, people, storefronts, and casinos because they no longer have drivers. I am standing in front of the Bethany Baptist Church, east of the Strip, with Margaret, a church member. Margaret, what do you think is going on?”

“Well, it’s obviously the rapture, when those who have been born again in Christ are taken. ‘For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.’ Those of us who have been watchful, who read the Rapture Ready News, for example, and have seen that the rapture index is close to 200, or who listen to Rapture Ready Radio, have been reading the signs that have foretold this event. As Revelation says, ‘If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.’ That hour has come, praise God! The First Seal has been opened! Hallelujah!”

“So, these people who are ascending to the sky, they are the righteous who have been born again?”

“That is what scripture tells us.”

“But what do you make of the fact that these souls are streaming from the casinos and other seedy sites from all over Las Vegas? Or the reported streams from Jewish temples and from mosques?”

“Um, I don’t know. Those people should be damned to hell.”

“One last question, have you been born again?”

“Why, yes, of course I have!”

“Then why are you still standing here?”

“Um, ah, I don’t know.”

“OK, thank you, Margaret. Back to you in the studio, George.”

John switched to CNN.

“There are reports of hysteria in Las Vegas at this hour. People are calling CNN and reporting seeing fellow citizens rise into the sky and flying off to the northeast. We are attempting to get ahold of the head of the Las Vegas Valley Water District to see if there is somehow a contamination of the water source that is causing the apparent mass psychosis of the people of Las Vegas.

“Wait, I’m being told we have live video from station KVVU in Las Vegas. Oh! Oh, my God! This is unbelievable . . .”

John turned off his phone. The word was spreading fast. There was little doubt that Ruha was right. The natural response would be to send the US military to the center of the storm. Jesus and he would need to take preemptive measures against the threat.

John turned to Jesus and said, “I’m afraid we need to send a plague against the air force and ballistic missile installations within immediate range, and soon across the whole country. There’s no way we can shoot all the planes and missiles out of the sky as they approach.”

Jesus looked puzzled. “I don’t know what you mean. What are planes? What are missiles? I am not familiar with these words.”

John quickly filled Jesus in on the threat. Jesus appeared to take the news reasonably well for a man who was two millennia out of touch with technology. On his phone, John showed him pictures of fighter jets, bombers and missiles and described their power.

Jesus said, “If I understand you, the army can kill at great distances and our only hope is to disable or kill the warriors by sowing plague. Is there nothing we can do with that brick you were just consulting?”

John blinked in confusion and then realized Jesus was referring to his cell phone. “No, Jesus. I don’t think this will help, although we can try to keep in touch with what is happening, for as long as it has power, that is. Let us try to visit a plague upon all the closest air force bases—the places they launch the planes from.”

John did a search of nearby air bases. “There are 19 Air Force bases we need to worry about right now. We’ll eventually have to disable the rest of the 82 across the US. But we don’t even know how to cast a plague.” John turned to Ruha. “How can we do this?”

“Just imagine the places, think of the type of plague, and say, ‘So be it.’”

“OK. Jesus, let’s concentrate on Nellis first, although they’ve probably already scrambled some planes. How about a plague of sleep? It seems the least harmful.” The two men closed their eyes, concentrated, and said in unison, “So be it.”

John said, “We should check the news to see if it worked.”

Ruha replied, “No, there’s no time for that. I can assure you, it worked. Your powers are absolute. You should take care of the remaining 18 bases quickly, and then move on to the rest, followed by the missile sites.”

“Do we need to do them one-by-one?”

“For the first few, I suggest you do. But you can do all at one time, once you get used to it. You’ll probably need to extend across the world to Russia and any other power that can strike this area. We’ll also need to disable the army. This site is remote enough to make overland assault difficult, but the other armed forces have air capabilities as well. You’ll be very busy.”

Just then, a pair of fighters streaked overhead, and banked sharply to return. “We need to use the fire this time,” John told Jesus. “We need to hit them before they crest the surrounding peaks, so the destruction doesn’t fall into this valley.”

Jesus and John looked to the planes coming back from the east, opened their mouths, and spit long arcs of fire. The planes, despite last-minute evasive action, ran into the pillars of file and exploded, crashing into the other side of the ridge. A huge fireball rose into the sky. The two men were devastated. It was one thing to put people to sleep. It was another to murder them. The fact that all were doomed to die in two weeks hardly made it better. Ruha comforted the pair, putting her arms around them and saying, “Your vigilance is critical to maintaining this place until Ptahil and Abatur Rama d-Muzania break the bounds of Earth seven days before the end of this existence.”

And so it was. For eight days, Jesus and John visited plague on the armies of the Earth and fought off air and missile attacks until the ridges around the Temple of Sinawava smoked continuously.

On the eighth day, John and Jesus felt a strong trembling in the ground. To the south rose a great cloud of dust. At the same time, a similar pillar of dust rose to the west. Soon the earth was quaking, and rock was falling into the canyon, but the Pulpit remained steady and unshaken. John asked Ruha, “What is happening?”

“Watch and see,” she replied.

As John watched, boulders shot into the sky and two massive heads appeared over the rim of the canyon, approaching from the south and west. The beings appeared to be made of rock themselves, and the ground shivered at the impact of their steps. As they approached the parking lot, cars, lampposts and other metal objects took flight and clung to the sides of their legs.

“Who, or what, are they?” John cried.

“They have gone by many names: Gog and Magog, Wolf and Coyote, the Nephilim, Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David, but their real names are Ptahil and Abatur Rama d-Muzania, the Fourth Life and the Third Life. Ptahil rose from the earth under Tabernacle Dome, and Abatur rose from under the Three Patriarchs.”

John began shivering. He had dreamt of the day he would meet his maker, but he had never dreamed this dreadful nightmare. My creator is a two-hundred-foot magnetic being made of rock? And his father is not my Lord, but another huge rock being, and he’s going to weigh my soul. This is way too much to take.

He looked at Ruha, who now wore a flowing white robe and seemed to be iridescent and almost transparent. Her eyes were fixed on the two giants, whose bulk closed off the end of the canyon as they settled over the river. Their rock faces were impassive as their dull eyes swept over the canyon. Ruha nodded and raised her arms toward them. The two giant heads nodded slightly, and she turned to look over the side of the Pulpit. The river water quickly started to flow toward the Pulpit, at first sinking into the parched desert ground. There seemed to be much more water than the meager river would provide, and the level slowly crept up the sides of the Pulpit. Soon the water was so high that Ruha was able to lean down and dip a pitcher into it. The water stopped rising, and Ruha turned with the pitcher and gestured to John to retake his seat at the altar. She then turned to Jesus and indicated he should take the adjacent seat.

John, barely able to walk due to the violent shaking of his body, slowly made his way to the altar and took his seat. Ruha approached the two and indicated they should bow their heads. She then poured the water over each saying, “In the name of the First Life! Let every man whose strength enables him and who loves his soul, come and be baptized, and receive the Pure Sign. It is the water in which we clothe ourselves and put on robes of radiant light.”

The water flowed down from the men’s heads, down over their shoulders, torsos and legs, leaving behind shimmering, glowing robes. “And now rise,” Ruha commanded. John and Jesus rose to their feet and continued rising several feet into the air. Jesus took this better than John, who waved his arms and legs and flailed in a futile effort to climb down out of the air.

“Don’t be afraid, John,” Ruha said. “You have been finally prepared for your witness.” John stopped flailing and hung in the air next to Jesus, who turned and smiled at him. “Be of good cheer, John. We are part of a momentous process. I am sure you would not have been chosen if you were not worthy.”

John smiled weakly and reached out for Jesus’ hand. “You may not be who I thought you were, but I am glad you are by my side. You give me strength to carry on.”

Ruha said, “The weighing of souls will begin with the Unredeemables, who do not need to be weighed, but they do need to be ushered into the Dark World.” With that she turned to Ptahil and Abatur Rama d-Muzania and nodded. They nodded back and turned their huge heads to the sky, which was full of dark figures whirling in the quadrants of the clouds. At their glance, a stream of figures broke away from the northern quadrant and poured toward the stone giants. The stream blotted out the rest of the sky as it swooped toward The Pulpit. When it encountered the rock of The Pulpit, it split in two and each stream entered one of the stone mouths, which were gaping open. The sound was terrifying, as each soul screamed horrifically as it passed the Pulpit and entered Ptahil’s and Abatur’s mouths.

John and Jesus continue to observe, floating above the rock of the Pulpit as the streams continued for hours, then days, then for three days. The two men were not aware of any fatigue during this process and remained vigilant as the souls streamed past.

On the evening of the third day, the torrent of souls was finished. Ruha said, “Although you two have been exalted as Witnesses, you are still mortal, and need rest. Please take your rest and be refreshed, for tomorrow begins the weighing of souls.” John and Jesus alighted back onto the floor of The Pulpit and noticed two fine beds, with embroidered silk sheets and plump pillows, awaited them. They went to bed and fell instantly to sleep.

The next day, at sunrise, they awoke to Ruha singing a wordless song. It sounds sad, John thought. He arose and went over to Ruha, who was turned away from him. He looked at her face and saw she was grieving and in pain. “Ruha! What is the matter?”

“My world. My world is ending. When the last soul is weighed, this world will be done. I will have lost everything.”

“What will become of you?”

“I am bound to serve Ptahil, who will undoubtedly try again to create a perfect world.” Ruha sighed. “I suppose I should look forward to that, rather than mourning this ending.”

John put his arm around her shoulders and nodded. “I understand. I, too, have lost everything. I don’t know what has become of my wife, my family, my friends. I’ve been terrified that I would recognize one or more of them as the dark souls streamed by.” John began to cry, and Ruha joined him.

Jesus watched this from his bed. He got up and approached the two, enfolding them both in his arms. The three remained like that for 10 minutes before Ruha shook herself and said, “It is time.”

“What will happen?” John asked. “Will there be streams of souls like with the Unredeemables?”

“No,” Ruha replied. “All will be weighed on the scale and ascend on their assigned path, either through the purifying worlds, or to join the First Life. Their lives are more virtuous, so they are spared terror and fear. They will leave their bodies behind and appear before Abatur on the scale.” As she said this, the two witnesses looked across to the two giants and there was a huge two-panned balance scale in front of Abatur. John and Jesus rose into position, and Ruha nodded at Abatur, whose rocky face looked distinctly unhappy.

“It’s hard to tell, but it seems that Abatur is not happy about his task,” John said.

“Yes. Abatur, the Lofty of the Scales, detests his job as scales guardian. Because his faulty instruction to his son during the creation of the world, he was forced into this job as punishment. He complains bitterly about that, and about being imprisoned in the rock while weighing souls for millennia.”

John turned back to Abatur and the weighing began. The only sign that invisible souls were being weighed was a slight shivering of the pans of the scale as souls of differing weights passed over it in a split second.

Like the disposition of the Unredeemables, the process took three days. When it ended, Ruha said, “There are two souls left to weigh.”

John and Jesus looked at each other, bewildered for a moment. Then they realized Ruha was referring to them.

“Are you ready?” Ruha asked.

John’s fear was as palpable as the knot in his stomach. Unconsciously, he knew this moment would come, but with all the activity, he had not had any time to deal with it. He glanced at Jesus, who nodded at him. The two men turned to Ruha and said in unison, “So be it.”

“As Witnesses, you are afforded the privilege of proceeding to the scale in the flesh. Which of you will be first?”

Jesus quickly said, “I will!”

John turned to him and, with tears in his eyes, said, “In a way, you are indeed my Savior! You are giving me a few moments more of life and I thank you for it.”

Jesus floated out of the Pulpit and down to the scale. He turned back to Ruha and John and waved. He settled on the pan, which did not move at the addition of his weight. Then he was gone.

John embraced Ruha and said, “If I had known when I sought you out that this would be the result of our friendship, I’m not sure I would have done it. But I am glad to have played my part in this end. Goodbye.” Ruha began weeping and nodded as John floated down to the scale and settled onto the pan. The scale moved a little, and then he was gone. A split second later, the world winked out of existence.

 

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