(Except from Chapter Three — Doctrines of Demons, Book Three of the Laodicea Chronicles. Note that this excerpt is from a work in progress. Chapter headings and some content may change before the final publication. This scene is one of a number of flashbacks).
JOHN THUNDERCLOUD anxiously paced back and forth, waiting for Bob Prosser to conclude his examination. In the kitchen, the two ladies who had become so dear to him clicked glasses and pans as they washed up dishes from two days’ worth of meals.
“Did Barrett leave already?” Celeste Adamson called from the dining room, where she laid out fresh linens and a bowl of fruit.
Thundercloud snorted and waved his arms. “Like usual. Here and gone. How long could a quick checkup take?”
Cissy’s low-rise heels clicked on the hardwood as she joined the frustrated Winnebago. At nearly six feet tall, Celeste Adamson stood toe to toe with Thundercloud. She placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Ellie is fine. Her heart is strong, John.”
“Not as strong as you’d think,” he said matter-of-factly, not willing to reveal too much emotion. “Thanks for coming by, Cissy. You and Jean are good people.”
Before Adamson could answer, the door at the end of the hallway opened and closed – revealing a slim finger of light coming from inside the bedroom. Robert Prosser’s tall figure tiptoed toward them. “She’s asleep now,” he half-whispered, coming into the living room. “Cissy, could you get me some iced tea or water? I’m really parched with this heat.”
“Sure, Bob,” Adamson said, disappearing into the kitchen where she and Davis began a new conversation.
“You got bad news for me?” John asked simply, his black eyes flat.
“She’s got a month, maybe a little more,” the doctor answered honestly. “Surgery won’t help. Her heart’s too far gone. The tests we ran last week confirm advanced cardiac sarcoma – and it’s malignant. It’s rare, but it’s real.”
“Cancer? How? We don’t smoke, we don’t eat junk food. We exercise! What else could we do? Ellie’s mother lived to be ninety-six! Robert, you’re mistaken.”
Prosser’s handsome features, lined with years of delivering bad news, softened, and he reached out for Thundercloud’s hand. “John, I’d love to be wrong here, but there’s no getting around it. You need to tell Barrett and make some arrangements.”
In the kitchen, Jean Davis looked up at her tall, lifelong friend and began to cry. Cissy shivered. The air had grown thick and stale – a shadow hovered over all their heads, and Celeste heard faint laughter. Death had arrived in Eden.
Two weeks passed, and Barrett finally admitted his mother’s frailty by coming home. The stubborn lawyer blamed his father – as he had blamed him for so many things over the years – and he stayed close to his mother’s hospital bedside, speaking to John only when necessary. Pastor Enoch Jones, a relative newcomer to Eden, had become a regular visitor along with Cissy and Jean. With Katy’s return to Bloomington, Adamson was again an empty nester, and she delivered groceries, an endless supply of casseroles, and enough love to convert even the hardest heart.
It was nearing midnight, exactly 33 days since hearing Prosser’s deadly diagnosis, that found Thundercloud in his small bedroom, on his knees, asking God for a miracle. To his surprise, he received a temptation.
“John Barrett Thundercloud, you are a man of many faces.”
The aging Indian turned at the voice – disembodied yet real – as if coming from a distant land.
“Do you not speak to an old friend?” the voice asked.
Rising, John turned toward the sound. Only empty air. “Have you become nothing more than a vain noise in the wind?” he asked the tempter.
Laughter. “Old friend, we have not danced for so long! Not since Angel Falls, I think. Unless you count that small meeting when you first arrived in Eden. [Note: ‘Angels Falls’ is a reference to another book, Skin Walkers — it’s a prequel).
“You’re toothless, as always,” Thundercloud replied. The air around him sparked to life as a form took shape near the foyer. Glittering scales shimmered in the yellow light of the ceiling fixture, slowly materializing with intermittent bursts of green, violet, and ruby red.
“She needn’t die,” the emerging dragon spoke. “If you would but serve me rather than him, then I would heal her. HE will not, for he has no true love for you. You and your wife and son are nothing more than pawns, John. Did I and my brethren not comfort Eve in the original Eden when the Trinity conspired to evict her from the only home she had ever known? Did we not ease her childbirth with herbs and healing? Did we not teach her children to laugh and build and make music? It is we who love you, John. We who have stood by your ancestors throughout the millennia of testing – and why does the Triune God test you with brambles and disease? Is it to strengthen you – no! – it is to strengthen Him! Hear me, John, and learn. Speak the words of unity with me, and I will heal your beloved this very hour.”
The dragon stood fully formed now, his face so blindingly bright John could hardly bear to look at him. His ears pounded rhythmically with his own blood, and his knees nearly failed him. Catching himself on the couch, the human pushed to straighten his back and forced his eyes to glare into the dragon’s own piercing gaze.
“Never! I call upon the Almighty to chastise you! I call upon the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who offered up Him-self as a willing and unblemished sacrifice – for me! He covers me with His blood, and He will deal with you! Get thee behind me, Satan! You have no part with a child of the true King!”
For a second the air stopped, time stopped, even the clocks in the house stopped, and John felt the enemy’s boundless rage envelop him with fire. A wail like that of a massive siren exploded through the Indian’s skull as ancient winds flew from the monster’s nostrils and flew like screaming bats through every part of the house. The dragon roared violently, shaking the foundation, loosening nails and splintering wood. His claws sliced the air, and his enormous tail raked across the walls, dragging cherished photographs to the floor with a sickening clatter.
John felt faint, nauseous, nearly dead, but – in the midst of the chaos – an unseen hand steadied him, and he thought he imagined a magnificent warrior dressed in linen and bearing a sword of fire. Without a word, the angelic warrior seized the dragon by the throat, spoke silent words into his gleaming ear, and – as if he had never existed – the dragon disappeared.
Thundercloud reached out to touch the angel, whose serene beauty lightened his heart, but the majestic being stepped away. “You may not touch me, John Thundercloud, child of the Most High God. But you have done well, and your King has sent me to aid you. Your city will know great suffering and triumph. And your wife will very soon dance without pain, and she will await your arrival. Rejoice in this, John Thundercloud, though your heart will weep for a short time.”
“Y-you are God’s m-messenger,” Thundercloud stammered, struggling to compose himself. “Forgive me, I must be dreaming. Am I — dreaming?”
The great angel’s mouth softened at the edges, and he smiled. “No, John, you are not dreaming. You have done well. The time of the end has arrived, and the dragon grows impatient. He knows his imprisonment is nearing, and he has asked permission to sift this land – and to tempt the people of this city, as he is even now doing throughout the world. The Bridegroom stands at the doors, John. You must remain strong! Have courage, for you are not alone! Your greatest test is yet to come, and you will face the enemy’s strength when you are weakest. The enemy fears your faith, and he seeks to kill you. The Lord will not permit this, but you will be changed. The Lord God Almighty will strengthen you, John Thundercloud -– trust in the Lamb!”
The messenger’s face began to glow even more brightly, and he raised his sword high into the air, impossibly high for the home’s ceilings and walls appeared to yield as if made of spirit. “Wait!” John cried, hitting his knees with such force, his kneecaps cracked. “May I know your name?”
“Do not bow before me, John Thundercloud. You are a prince! A son of the Most High!” A translucent hand grasped John’s arms, steadying him on his feet, and an envigorating fire ran through his legs. “Call upon the Lamb, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Root of David, and King of all Kings, and He will send me should the need arise. Trust in Him, no matter what may fall. Resist the dragon and he will flee from you.”
“But how will I call you — what is your name?”
“Do not call upon my name, for only the Lamb is worthy! But if you must know, John, my name is Michael.”
With that the mighty archangel of God disappeared, leaving the tiny house perfectly ordered, as if nothing had happened.