Dax and Zeke glanced at each other. I could see what they were thinking. Two of us. One of him. We can take him.
Lesley evidently read the same thing. He fired a bullet into the ground beside Dax, who leaped like a cat straight up in the air.
“No resistance! Like you say, Zeke, I’m already in trouble, so I might as well take her with me. Come on, Miss Flame.” He ordered.
“Go on Dax. Zeke. I’ll be okay,” I spoke with more assurance than I felt.
“Kaytie, we’ll be coming for you with the sheriff,” Dax promised.
“Yeah, I guess so. But you’ll have to hike down the mountain first. Your Jeep is plumb stuck, and I pulled out a few wires out from under the hood just to be certain. By the time you make it to the valley, we’ll be far away, and you’ll never find us.”
He held up the Jeep wires, dangling them as if they were tasty treats to entice a pet dog. A rumble of thunder punctuated his statement. Dax and Zeke backed slowly away, their faces filled with a mixture of angry frustration and deep concern.
Lesley tied a link of rope from his belt to my waist and guided me through the woods.
“Where are we going?”
He didn’t bother to answer.
We walked in silence. I hoped to leave a clear trail of foot prints. The guys would be following us very soon. I doubted they would wait beyond the time it took for us to get out of sight.
Around a clump of trees, we came to a four-wheeler hidden under low cedar branches. Lesley ordered me to climb on in front of him, still tied to his waist. We took off through the woods along the top of a ridge. With a sinking feeling, I realized my rescuers would not be able to keep pace on foot. The threatening rainstorm could easily wash out any tire tracks as well.
I considered hurling us both off the ATV but decided it was too risky, especially when the trail cut along a steep, rocky grade sloping down to untold depths below. What would I accomplish by taking that plunge? We might both wind up dead, or severely injured. Was that worth the risk? I decided to wait and hope for rescue later.
We rode for miles along the ridge. Under different circumstances, I might have appreciated the breathtaking view of valleys and rolling hills stretched below like a patchwork quilt under a blanket of gauzy mist. In the west, ridges thrust upward toward greater mountains made of towering clouds. The celestial range looked heavy enough to crush us beneath their collapse.
I speculated on how long it might take Zeke and Dax to hike down the mountain and back to Adelphia. That was their only recourse at the moment, unless they managed to catch an unlikely ride along the trail. I told myself that possibility would increase once they hit the main road. What about the two cattlemen? Would they be in the area again so soon? Deer hunters? The horseman I’d glimpsed earlier?
I wistfully imagined Dax and Zeke happening on a group riding capable horses. The riders become a mounted posse charging to rescue me. They overtake my captor and lift me into Dax’s waiting arms. That part was a little too much. I crossed it off my wish-list.
The clouds ripped open, pelting me with needle sharp drops. Lesley pulled his four-wheeler over and we sat huddled under a rock ledge, a slight but welcome shelter. The Saint Francois Mountains must be covered with these kinds of overhangs. Wet and shivering, I wished for a refuge, even a cave, so we get out of the downpour.
“Where are you taking me?” I shivered.
Lesley didn’t bother to answer. As soon as the rain let up, he revved the engine and took off again.
I tried to watch the trail for recognizable markings in case I got the chance to walk out. It was impossible to see much in the enveloping fog. The forest looked surreal on the ridge, like a dreamscape—eerie and gray, shrouded with ghostly wisps of intermittent mists.
In the early afternoon twilight, Lesley pulled up to what might have been a hunting cabin, a shack of a place, however it was obviously occupied. Coal oil lamps burned in the curtain-less windows.
The weathered wooden door creaked open on rusty hinges. Lesley shoved me inside. Flames leaped and crackled from a large stone fireplace and I moved toward it, eager to warm the chill out of my bones. Mercifully, Lesley untied the rope from around his waist, allowing me freedom to go to the hearth.
“I trust you won’t run away this time. You’d never find the path in the dark, and you already know the mountain can be dangerous.”
I could see the stern warning in his eyes. “Lesley, why have you brought me here? What can I possibly do for you? How can I convince you that I’m not the one you’re hoping for?”
He started toward the rustic kitchen and began making coffee. It smelled delicious. When he returned with a steaming mug, I accepted it. The hot liquid and crackling fire warmed my shivering frame.
He turned his back and told me to strip off my wet clothes, handing me a long, hooded black robe to put on. The dry fabric felt marvelous against my skin. I hung my damp jeans, blouse and boots over a rickety chair near the fire to dry them out. When I turned, Lesley had put on a similar robe.
Dressed in black, we looked the part of a pair of coven members, like the infamous Count Ribaldo’s coven.
“What am I supposed to be chosen for?” I hoped to get him started talking again. His continued silence puzzled me.
“I told you before. You are Flame, the bearer of light to the world. You will be the one to stop mankind from destroying itself.”
“Who says mankind is going to destroy itself?”
“The EBEs. They know the future.”
“Lesley, you believe that they can’t travel to the future. Remember?”
He blinked. “They can’t. But they live in a different realm than we do. The third Circle. They know what’s going to happen here.”
A momentary chill pimpled the back of my neck. Beware the third circle.
“How can that be if they can’t travel into the future?”
“What is past is also our future.”
More convoluted thinking. Logic was not getting me anywhere.
The door opened. Two men and a woman entered, also wearing hooded robes. They looked like a trio of Yoda figures, only taller. Lesley greeted them perfunctorily. They poured themselves coffee and drank from the mugs, eyeing me with sidelong glances.
The tall one’s gaze was intense. “Yes. She is the chosen one. They may come for her tonight. They want to communicate with her soul. Did you put the draught in her cup?”
Lesley nodded affirmatively. “She’ll be asleep for hours. When she wakes, she will understand her destiny fully.”
I stared in horror at the mug in my hands. “What have you done to me? What’s in this?” Had I actually been stupid enough to allow myself to be drugged once more? I thought of the ecstasy-drug with horror and silently prayed that if I drank any deadly thing it would not harm me.
That’s when the room began to spin. I blinked and struggled to keep my eyes focused. Whatever had been put in the coffee was taking rapid effect. Would I suffer after effects? I thought of how Dax must have felt after discovering he’d been poisoned by a voodoo priestess in New Orleans. Questions flooded my befogged mind.
I felt myself sinking into a vortex. The room grew smaller and smaller. I could see rough beams on the ceiling and realized I was lying prone on a table. The hooded figures began chanting something around me. I struggled to understand their words. They placed candles around my body. The flames seemed to wink and flicker, farther and farther away.
“Come, Star Prince. Take her soul with you and connect her to the universal consciousness in the Third Circle. Fill her with an understanding of her high destiny.”
Some part of my brain registered the words and issued a wry challenge to their star prince.
C’mon space man. If you exist, take me to your leader. Show me your space ship. Show me something tangible. Something in the realm of the five senses.
I imagined myself entering a control room filled with dwarfish gray characters. They were singing “whistle while you work.” Another part of my brain laughed at the thought. But most of my consciousness balked at the feeling of weightlessness and the swirling, mist-colored figures moving around me.
Stop this madness!
I wanted to shout, but my lips refused to move. I knew how Zeke must have felt when he demanded an audience with God.
Hear me! Let’s get this whole thing settled once and for all. I am not Flame, your deliverer!
The words echoed in my mind’s ear, but no sound passed my lips. Hooded figures grew smaller. I had enough presence of mind to know they had summoned an entity, and I was the offering. A helpless female waiting for King Kong to stomp out of the jungle and grab me. Only this time it was not the giant ape that the natives were calling for, but an alien entity. A being supposedly from another world.
Mentally I strained to flee. My paralyzed body did not respond.
Images drifted from scene to scene, as in a disconnected a nightmare. The chanting voices increased in volume. Vague forms took on unrecognizable shapes in the swirling room. Some of them looked like monsters with reptilian faces and scaly hides. There were other figures too, one of them an incredibly tall, powerful warrior, dressed like a gladiator. He carried a sword and stood between me and the reptilians. I sensed power and protection in his presence. He dispelled the danger and a great calm came over me.
The female in the group threw back her hooded head and let out an ear-splitting shriek. If I had been able to respond, I’m sure the hairs on my neck would have curled and goose bumps would have pimpled my arms. As it was I could only lie there in motionless silence. The others fell silent, looking toward her.
“My spirit guide is here. He says we must wait. The woman is resisting too strongly. She’s hanging onto to her soul. O yes, Star Prince, we are here to do your bidding. We are your servants.”
The three men looked at her with passive expressions. She appeared very agitated. Every time she approached me, she stopped, unable to pass the gladiator figure who stood by my side. She would pace toward him and suddenly halt. After her third attempt, I realized he was invisible to her wild eyes.
Even if he was a drug-induced hallucination, my body began to relax. Whatever was supposed to happen, I would be safe with the gladiator between me and the others.
After a few moments of chanting, the female dropped to the floor. At that point I lost all awareness.
The next time I opened my eyes, I was lying under a blanket on a lumpy couch. A woman sat in a chair beside me. I guessed her to be in her late thirties or early forties, yet there was a sense of something ancient about her appearance even though her face was unlined. Her dark hair was not yet streaked with gray, however that could be the work of a good hair dresser.
“Hello, Miss Flame, how are you feeling?” Her concern sounded genuine.
“Considering I’ve been kidnapped again, tied up and drugged, just swell.” I despised the weak tremor in my voice. “This is becoming a pattern in my life. I’m a magnet for cult people who kidnap me for insane reasons.”
I raised my head, and the room began spinning in a dizzying, tilt-a-whirl experience. When it finally settled, I could see that we were alone in the cabin.
“Feeling dizzy, huh? Don’t worry. It’ll wear off in a few minutes. A little strong coffee will help.” The woman left her seat beside me and returned with a steaming mug.
I looked at it, suspiciously.
“It’s just coffee.”
“Thanks, but no thanks.” My body craved the dark liquid at the moment, but I was taking no chances. “Gotta be in my right mind if I’m going to be a super-rescue hero, ya know. Save the world and all that stuff.” I pulled myself up to a sitting position.
“You have no idea how important that is.” The woman’s eyes turned steely. She did not appreciate my sarcasm.
“Is it nuclear destruction? A plague of incurable disease? Starvation? All of the above. What exactly am I supposed to be saving us from?”
“You can call me Avatar.” The woman ignored my question.
“Avatar. That’s an unusual name. Almost as unusual as mine. I got it from my mother.”
I decided to chat conversationally, hoping to convince her of my relative normalcy—whatever that might be. I was sure that if she knew me even the slightest bit better, she would realize I wasn’t the one she hoped for.
“My mom took my name from a Civil War novel. Scarlet O’Hara. Only she changed Scarlet to Flame. I’d much rather be called something less flame-buoyant. Why couldn’t she have chosen one of the other characters? Named me Rhettta or Melanie? Something more fitting for an ordinary woman like me.”
She made no response, so I babbled on. “I know it’s an unusual name, but there’s really nothing prophetic about it. Your own name is not exactly common. How’d you get it?”
“It was given to me by one of the star people. His name is Voron. He’s my guide. I channel his voice. His instructions. His prophetic warnings.”
A channeler of voices. A practice forbidden by the Bible. I knew what that meant. Deception. Curiously, I felt no fear.
“I see. You’re an abductee then?”
She remained passive.
“Why does Voron want my soul?”
Avatar leaned back in her chair. “It takes a while to understand. I’m telling you this because you are chosen. Simply put, the star people have learned there’s a finite number of souls in the universe. These souls continually recycle. The star people need to reproduce more biological bodies to be containers for the souls they harvest. That’s why they’re so interested in the reproductive cycle of humans.”
“Okay. . . what happens if there are more body-containers than souls? Have you ever thought about that?”
Avatar appeared to ponder my question. I repeated it. “We have unlimited exponential increase in the number of bodies on this planet, and yet you say there are only so many souls to be recycled. What happens if the bodies outnumber the souls? Would there be babies born without a soul?”
She blinked. I thought I could see a tiny crack in the armor of her belief system. She didn’t answer, so I kept up the questions.
“What happens to the soul after its body-container dies? Do the star people redistribute it? Is it reassigned after the container dies? This sounds like the eastern religions’ theory of reincarnation.”
“I don’t know much about eastern religions. I do know that when the body dies, the soul retains some memories of the life it has just lived, like a beaker contains the residue of the substance it once held. Souls pick up a residue from all the containers they’ve been in.”
She sounded convinced, but I glimpsed the hint of a question forming behind the surface.
“Is there ever an end? Or do these souls continue recycling for eternity? Do you think they ever wear out?”
“No, they don’t wear out.”
“Then why do the star people want to harvest souls?”
“The EBEs are afraid that if we damage our container bodies, we may damage our souls. That’s why they’re so concerned about speaking through you to warn Earth against the destruction of the planet.”
“So, you’re saying there’s an eternity of recycling souls that never die, but souls are inside bodies that can be harmed. Harm the body and damage the soul? Right? All bodies eventually die. If death can’t harm the soul, what can? That makes no sense.” I tried to point out the flaws in her logic.
“Maybe not to you. Not yet. But you’ll see in time.”
“What is your concept of time?” I was convinced her ideas of eternity were completely flawed.
“Time is a spiral that goes round and round. Events reoccur at certain times in the spirals. The Star People want to change the catastrophes that Earth is spiraling toward now. They need a spokesperson. You.”
“Have you learned all this from your own experiences with these. . . entities? Or have you read about it somewhere?”
“Both. I was abducted first. Then I read about it from other contactees who have been warned.”
“Tell me about your abduction.”
Avatar sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. Her face looked weary, as if she had just completed a long and difficult task.
“Yes, I was abducted. The first time I was just a child of seven. The thing came through the wall and dragged me out of bed. I thought it was a nightmare at first, until Voron.”
“He comes to me in my dreams. Voron has guided me, helped me avoid many of life’s difficulties.”
“A dream person then?”
“Oh, he’s more than that. I’ve had waking experiences with Voron. You’ll see. You will have your own guide when the time is right.”
“What if I already have a guide?” I was curious as to how she might answer that. She blinked her eyes with no apparent emotion.
“Can your guide tell the future? Help you escape from sudden disasters?” She challenged confidently, as if from a superior understanding.
“Is that what Voron does for you?”
A hint of a smile curved her lips. “Yes. The first time it happened I was in college. My roommate’s bed was next to the wall. Mine was beside the window on the first floor of the dormitory. Voron compelled me to shove it to the center of the room. That night, a drunk crashed his car into our room. There were bricks and steaming metal all crunched together like an accordion, right where my bed would have been. Without Voron’s warning, I would have been killed.”
She took a sip from the coffee mug to demonstrate it was harmless, then extended it toward me. I refused again, but my will was weakening. The coffee smelled enticing.
“Do you get these warnings often?”
“Are they always warnings of something bad? Or is there ever a sense of something good going to happen?”
Avatar knitted her brows together for a moment. “Most often it’s a warning of something bad. But after all, you don’t need to be warned when something good is going to happen.”
“Uh huh. Avatar, I used to have those kinds of warnings for years. I couldn’t help people avoid bad things. Then one day I invited the Lord Jesus into my heart and life. That changed everything. Now the Holy Spirit is my Guide. He prompts me to pray for others in need.”
Avatar’s eyes took on a different appearance, one of grudging respect. “You are connected to the universal consciousness. That is the force leading you.”
“Okay, then you do believe in God.”
“God? Of course, but what is god really? That is just a word. God is the supreme all-inclusive force, both the light and the dark force of destruction and renewal. He is the divine essence and the vibration of existence within every creature in all their separate dimensions.”
I silently noted the half-truths she was uttering, speaking as if by rote.
Okay here goes the real question. The one in First John, Chapter Four which explains how to test the spirits to see if they are from God.
“What about Jesus? Who is He?”
“Jesus was the result of artificial insemination performed on Mary by the star people. He was the earthly expression of the divine consciousness, just as we all are. We’re all children of the universe. He was an ascended master sent to show us alternate realities. The world wasn’t ready to hear his message at the time.”
She didn’t have to say anything more. She had failed the biblical test. The Spirit of Truth was not in her. I was daring deception’s daemons just by talking with her.
“Jesus had to leave in a space ship screened by clouds of smoke. You’ve read the account. The writers of the gospel saw this happen. They didn’t know how to explain what they saw so they described clouds of angels. We know the truth from the people of the stars today.”
“How do you recognize truth from a lie? Where do you think Jesus went?”
“He’s in another realm, a higher plane. Souls who have worked out their final destiny can progress to that realm.”
“Who are those souls?”
She called off the names of impressive people. Ghandi. Martin Luther King. Princess Diana. Mother Teresa. I wouldn’t argue with her concerning their good works. But to assume anyone’s good works can earn a place in any higher plane contradicts the gospels. There is no remission of sin without the shedding of righteous blood. A none righteous but the Lord Jesus ever walked the earth. Good works cannot earn God’s promise of eternal life.
“Who decides when a soul gets to ascend to the higher plane?”
“The soul transcends when it is purified.”
Avatar was as deceived as the witch of Rainy Bay Bayou.
I decided to change the subject. “What did you study in college?”
“I have a degree in psychology and another in counseling. I’m currently in private practice.”
For a moment, I was horrified to think that unsuspecting people had confidence in this woman and respected her educated opinions. What kind of counsel did she offer her clients? Come with me to the divine essence and let’s roam the stars together?
“You are an educated woman with an established career, and you’re willing to risk it all for what? Don’t you know that kidnapping is a federal offense?”
“I don’t expect you to understand now. But wouldn’t you agree that saving the planet is more important than saving my reputation?”
“You really believe that don’t you?”
“I have taken a long and circuitous route to arrive at my conclusions. I’ve found answers to questions that perplexed me as a child. I know who I am and where I came from.” Avatar spoke with apparent conviction.
“Where did you come from?”
“You will understand for yourself very soon. Carl Sagan had it right. We come from the stars. Earth was seeded by the star people as an experiment. They had a failure with Neanderthal man, so they wiped him out and started over. They tried combining the DNA of an Ape and beings of higher intelligence, which resulted in the Bigfoot Tribe. Finally, they left humanoids—us, derived from their own DNA—to populate the planet. Of course, much of earth’s population is made up of androids.”
“You would think of them as robotic people. They’re here to serve, collect specimens and monitor the earth.”
I listened, amazed that an educated woman could really believe in this bizarre junk.
“Miss Avatar, did you ever read the Bible? Go to church?”
She smiled wanly. “I don’t believe in Adam and Eve, if that’s what you mean. Religion has served its purpose. People had to make up explanations for what they didn’t understand. Today we have enlightenment from beyond. We’re all connected. Only narrow-minded religious bigots don’t see that.”
I decided not to touch that post-modernistic remark, because sadly there are religious bigots who do a great deal of harm by their misguided zeal.
“Okay, let’s say that Earth was populated by EBEs rather than by the Creator. So where did the EBEs get their start? They didn’t just pop out of nothing.”
“The universe began with the Big Bang, just as the scientists have discovered. It has been exploding ever since.”
“The Big Bang theory. Okay. What existed before the big bang?”
“Nothing? Nonsense! Matter doesn’t just explode out of nothing. Where’s the logic in that? Imagine nothingness on a continuum. Start with nothing. Nothing. More nothing. Then suddenly, POOF! Everything. Does that make sense?”
She looked at me with an odd expression, like she had never before considered the obvious question hanging over the Big Bang Theory.
I challenged her logic. “Avatar, you surely know that matter does not explode out of non-matter. Something doesn’t come from nothing. Everything science has learned about matter speaks of intelligent design.”
She raised a brow. “Perhaps there was anti-matter. I agree, there is a creative force in the universe.”
“In the universe. Seems to me the Creator must exist outside it for the universe to even be.”
I had never expected to get into a theological discussion of creation with a UFO-cultist. However, the topic of creation is usually a serious issue when it comes to exposing the fallacies in any cult’s belief system.
“I don’t have all the answers. But I do believe in our eventual destruction, unless the Light Bearer can divert it.” Her eyes fixed on me when she used the term Light Bearer.
“Why are you so convinced that I’m the one?”
“You are the living Flame. You have been chosen to go through the third circle of enlightenment.”
“By the Star People. They predicted your arrival years ago, through Lesley Daniels, using your very name. They will start appearing to you when you stop resisting. They will fill your mind with knowledge of good and evil. Then you will know your destiny.”
“Know my destiny? Have you ever thought about the possibility that these entities are not who they say they are? That perhaps they’re actually deceiving spirits?”
I glimpsed a momentary question in her eyes. “What do you mean?”
“Did you ever have actual physical encounters with these beings? Have you ever set foot on a solid space craft?
“They transport me into a different dimension.”
Now we’re getting somewhere.
“Are you talking about soul travel? Out-of-body experiences?”
“I see the things they show me. They’re real.”
“But you see them only in the other dimension. Right?”
She appeared to mull that over a minute or two.
“What’s your point?”
“Well, maybe these entities don’t have physical bodies at all. Maybe they’re evil spirits, wicked creatures, or fallen angels coming to deceive people. Think about it. Have they ever told you a lie?”
She turned her head away from my direct gaze. “There are different species of intergalactic beings. Some are feared by others as evil beings. But I’m protected from them.”
“Ah. You know that at least some of these beings are evil. How do you know which ones are not? You have to be careful who you’re listening to, or you can end up believing the wrong things and doing the wrong things.”
She blinked and turned to gaze out the window. “How do you know which people are good and which are evil?”
“You know by their truthful behavior. It’s true that sometimes a very deceitful person can fool others for a long time. A sociopath for instance. As a counselor, you’ve surely seen that in your profession.”
She did not deny that.
I hoped to drive my point home. “What you’ve been told has some half-truths in it.”
“I know the truth.”
“What is your standard for truth?”
“Truth? The star people say it must begin with the self.”
“Self. Oh. These star people are very philosophical. Self, huh? Then that makes Man the measure of all things. He’s a poor standard, don’t you agree? Flawed and sinful creature that he is. He determines his own truth? You can look at society and see how well that has worked.”
Ava remained speechless. I decided to drink the coffee and took a sip. It was luke warm. “What is true for one man may not be true for another. That’s relativism. Look around you at the world, full of violence, addiction, wars, debauchery, and abuse. How can wicked, evil, fallen mankind possibly be the standard for all truth?”
“Evil is learned behavior.”
“Do you really believe that? If evil is learned, that must mean we humans are born completely innocent and good. Where did evil come from if that is the case? Someone has to be the teacher. Evil doesn’t just spring out of innocence and goodness.”
“Evil has nothing to do with innocence and goodness. Evil is simply a lack of justice. The Star people are going to usher in a New Age of justice for the world.”
“Justice? For justice to exist, there has to be law. For law to exist there must be a Lawgiver and a judge. There must be punishment for those who break the law. Who among us is fit to judge, but the Creator?”
“That’s what you say. I believe nature is our judge on this planet. And because we’ve abused nature, we will reap our own destruction. Unless you, the Chosen One, are willing to be renewed in your thinking and help to divert it. To bridge the gap between continents, religions, cultures, and races so we can escape this destructive, greedy world for all time.”
I pondered her thought for a moment. “Nature our judge? Yes, there’s some truth in that. We do reap what we sew. A toxic world will not be a safe place to live. But nature is an arbitrary judge. Rains fall on the just and the unjust alike. Floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes—these disasters happen to both good and bad people as does sunshine and crop-nurturing rain. If nature is our judge, then there is no real justice.”
She appeared slightly less confident. “Okay. You believe in a Creator. I do too. He is the intergalactic, universal consciousness, and we are all joined together throughout the different dimensions. We are all gods in the universal collectiveness. You’ll see.” Her words sounded convinced, however the conviction did not reach her eyes.
“Universal collectiveness. Honey, we don’t join together to form a universal collectiveness. What unity has there ever been in the history of the world? You can’t get any two people to agree on even one thing all the time, let alone the whole universe.”
“You call it God, but I think we’re talking about the same thing.” The tone of her voice held a hint of doubt.
“No, dear one, we are not. Because your entities don’t deal with sin. They offer you a false salvation with a false Messiah or Light Bearer. They’re telling you the same lies they’ve always told. Promising you eternal life in other dimensions, instead of through forgiveness. They’re telling you that your eyes will be opened, and you’ll be like God, knowing good and evil.”
“Isn’t that exactly what you’re Bible says? That we’re all children of god?”
“Not at all. True we are all God’s creation, but we don’t become God’s children unless we are born of His spirit—”
At that moment the cabin door opened and in walked a hooded figure. His stride parted the air around him and left a wake charged with purpose. Everything about his posture promoted the impression of a combative warrior, a Darth Vader unmasked, right out of a Star Wars episode. He wore a black uniform of sorts under the cloak which he threw off with an impatient gesture. The fabric of Lycra stretched over a thick chest and muscular arms. A cryptic emblem on the buckle at his narrow waist repeated the same emblem emblazoned on the cloak. Black boots covered his muscular legs halfway to the knee.
Avatar stood up and greeted him with deference.