In 1999, the final year before the onset of Destruction, on the blessed anniversary of my birth, there will occur in the heavens an astrological Grand Cross. Yea, verily, He hath spoken!

And, in exquisitely synchronistic simultaneity, a total solar eclipse. Behold the Sign!

Thus am I called by Almighty God to His everlasting service. On that day, I will receive the glorious mantle of Divine Messenger, and I will go forth on the Earth and proclaim His Truth with a voice of thunder, never stopping.

Stop. Begin again.

The boy was sent by his mother to his father, to deliver a message. He was seventeen, just out of high school, and he felt himself to be tall and strong. He drove the old Pontiac with one hand loose on the wheel and the other arm out the window in the sunshine. I drive just like the old man, he thought, and his lip curled up on one side. The message he was to deliver was this: come home to your family and all will be forgiven. Come home and repent.

Begin again.

The runner failed. "His heart burst," was the way it was described by the citizens of his mountain village. Medically speaking, an exaggeration, but accurate nonetheless. And, they all admitted later, it wouldn't have made any difference. The white-faced men in their shiny, impenetrable skins, mounted on tall beasts that could cover far more ground than a running youth, would have come anyway. They would have come with their terrible weapons and their infinite numbers no matter what, and even had the messenger, his chest heaving and his legs trembling, made it up that final steep mountainside and cried out his warning, still, eventually, all would have been lost. This is what the people told each other: the gods decreed it, and so it was done.

Begin yet again.

You come from a long line of missionaries. Your father and both grandfathers and all four great-grandfathers and several great-great-grandfathers, and innumerable uncles and cousins, a priestly procession of dark-coated men stretching back through ten generations, all somber in their duties to the heathen and the unenlightened and the wicked of this poor earth, all of these men are watching you now, and your decision has been made. You are taking off your suit and tie. You are leaving these sweet black-skinned friends you have made, leaving them to fend for themselves in the jungle of rabid theologies, and you are going back across the wide ocean, going home to the jazz and the pale girls on Market Street.

No, no, go back. Start over.

Endure to the end. This vain and wicked generation payeth no heed, but still my valiant exhortations will ring out as a great bell in a high tower, and I will rebuke the Devil with every breath, whithersoever I go. With me always is the Lord my God, his Spirit the roaring furnace in my breast, his Gospel the might of armies in my terrible fist!

Start over.

The boy with the message to deliver twirled the steering wheel with one finger and felt gravel crunch under his tires as he turned off the paved highway onto a long rough road, the road to the place where his father lived, the little metal trailer at the foot of an oil drilling tower in the middle of a flat sunbaked wilderness, the trailer where his father lived with a pregnant woman who was not his mother. The boy began to whistle, a country tune. Just like the old man, he thought again, and he stopped whistling. He sat up straighter on the hard seat of the old car and wiped a sweaty palm on his jeans.

Stop, stop. Start again.

There was a young woman who found herself in a position she had never anticipated. How can a girl ever know the ways in which she will be linked to a chain of family, inserted into a story of men who walk through the world as strangers? But now she was a woman, and it had fallen to her, after she hung up the phone, to carry an unfortunate communication to the man she loved. She drove to the construction site where he was working, and under the bright summer sun, she said his name. He came to her and she put her arms around the man and felt the bulk of his body against hers, and then with her hands still on him, she looked into his face and told him his father was dead.

Again. Begin again.

The radio operator spoke his native language, and the enemy could not understand. His lips close to the microphone in a room with no windows, he spoke in a low voice. He spoke the tongue of his ancient fathers, the musical Navajo cadence, the gutturals, the diphthongs, and the words he spoke were real words that gave real images to his mind and to the mind of the other dark young man on the faraway warship--the images of sun and sand, of ants and sage and the wool of sheep. But the words were not a conversation, as much as the two young men would have loved to speak of home, and to laugh. The words themselves added up to nonsense, a double-coded cryptogram of gibberish, and even the brightest of Japanese lexicographers could not decipher the elliptical message, the message of utter destruction winging their direction.

Begin, begin once more.

By the time the boy got back home, mission accomplished, the sun had set in long red streamers across the western plains, and the sky was indigo. He pulled into the suburban driveway slowly, as if a great weight rested on the roof of the car. His mother waited in a darkened living room. The boy delivered the return message: "No, Mom," he said. "He's not coming home."

His mother sat still. She asked the boy about the other woman, the pregnant one. He answered briefly, without feeling. His mother's face crumpled in stages, and then grew red. "You spoke to that bitch? That slut?" she said. She stood suddenly, and stepped toward him. "Couldn't you stand tall, and rebuke her? Shout, Get thee behind me, Satan! Filthy harlot! Whore of Babylon! Abomination who seduces the men of God into the jaws of Hell to become filthy whoremongers and devils themselves!" Her face contorted. Spit flew from her lips. "Repent, saith the Lord, repent and be cleansed!" On and on she went. The boy turned his back. As she paced and screeched, he prepared a sandwich. When she had finally wound down and sat silently weeping, he said, "You're welcome. I'm going out now." And he left.

Stop. Begin again, one last time. Begin with the only truth possible.

Thus it has been spoken: I am called, and I am chosen. The stars wheel in their grand arc inexorably, hour upon hour since my birth, until that dark and fiery day when they will align in Almighty God's perfect formation, and all the world will behold the Awful Sign.

The Time is Now! The sky is bloody and the earth trembles! I am come! HEAR THE WORD!

About the author:

Brent Robison lives in the Catskill Mountains of New York. His writing has appeared in a handful of print and online literary journals, as well as hundreds of corporate training and marketing publications. His stories have won the Literal Latte Short Short Award, the Chronogram Short Fiction Contest, a Fiction Fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, and a Pushcart Prize nomination from Silent Voices. He is also the former publisher and editor of the Hudson Valley regional literary annual, Prima Materia.