A Voice in the Wilderness
As the Reverend Adam Leeds exited the apartment building, a new world order, in its infancy, followed him down the steps and onto the empty street. The long trek to Armageddon had begun.
Though he hadn’t caught sight of Adam this time, evangelist Moses Rawlins, who was, that very moment, returning to the Union Rescue mission for his evening meal, felt a sudden compulsion to shout out doomsday warnings. It was the same compulsion he had felt earlier today when he saw that dreadful women emerge from the shadows behind that unfortunate young man. As if to herald the distant age, he had cried out as a voice in the wilderness “Beware of the False Prophet, he who causes all, small and great and rich and poor to receive a mark!”
At that time of day most of the homeless folk were still panhandling or scrounging for liquor uptown. Such a spontaneous reaction was expected from drunks burned out on cheap wine. Laughing foolishly at himself, he had trudged up to the wholesale district bordering skid row, where he gave listeners a sampling of his new format. The sun was setting. Motorists driving past, as usual, frowned at him. Pedestrians still on the street, looked at him with great disgust. Although he was inspired with illumination, it felt like sheer lunacy. After this attempt, on the way back to the mission, he had stopped awhile beneath a large oak tree and tried it out on idlers in San Julian Park. He cringed now when he recalled his reception. The homeless folk in the park merely laughed at him. Many of them, who had only been annoyed at his fiery sermons before, had looked at him as if he had gone mad. For a while, as he considered his drastic change of format, he wondered if this might be true.
Though Judgment Day was a common theme in his preaching, it had been a personal—turn or burn—appeal to a sinner’s relationship with God. Ironically, Moses the firebrand preacher, had been a Roman Catholic since birth. In spite of his conversion to what he called “basic Christianity,” he had accepted the Roman Catholic interpretation of the Book of Revelation written by Saint John. The Catholic view, shared by many mainline Protestants, that John had intended his book only for the churches of his day, had made perfect sense to him, but so had many of the Protestant churches’ views on salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Doctrine, in itself, he believed, was not important. “The issue,” he explained to listeners, “is your relationship to God. Are you saved? Do you trust in the Lord?” It was that simple. All the trappings of the Catholic Church and the claptrap of the Protestant faith were not, in his estimation, essential for salvation and could, in fact, become stumbling blocks for the man and woman on the street.
When asked by a visiting priest at the mission if he had forsaken the mother church, Moses answered promptly that it had forsaken him. Its rituals and unbending ordinances against folks, like himself, had driven many believers away. But he also criticized a visiting Protestant pastor, who tried to convince his audiences that Roman Catholicism and Judaism were in error. Moses believed that Protestantism, particularly the televangelist kind, was fundamentally intolerant of other faiths. It also put too much stress on what was going to happen in the future, when today was all that mattered to folks on the street. On skid row and the wholesale district of Los Angeles, where he conducted his open-air church, the most important issue was a Christian’s personal relationship with God. Why would homeless folk care about the Antichrist or False Prophet when they suffered their own demons each day? Concepts such as the Mark of the Beast or the Great Tribulation, described by televangelists, were irrelevant to men and women gripped by the beasts of alcoholism and drugs. With the real life horrors that homeless people had to contend with daily, the doomsday scenarios painted by televangelists seemed ludicrous against the backdrop of skid row.
For Moses Rawlins, Christ’s words were simple and direct. Books in the Bible such as Revelation and Daniel—the chief sources of the Apocalypse, on the other hand, were too complex for simple folks to comprehend. In spite of the criticism from visiting pastors and priests, he had preached Christian basics to homeless people, rather than fundamental Protestantism or doctrinal Catholicism, striving to make the Holy Scriptures user friendly to their unwashed ears. On certain occasions, when questioned, he would explain to his listeners that there were no Catholics or Protestants in heaven. God was color-blind and doctrinally ignorant, and heaven was filled with only one type of men and women—Christians, period. Hell, on the other hand, was filled with all sorts of riffraff, be they Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, or Jew. His simple, easy to understand format for salvation had been perfectly suited for down-and-out souls on skid row. And yet now, after successfully avoiding doctrines and dogma all these years, he was espousing a particularly fundamentalist Protestant eschatology and attempting to warn folks about Biblical boogiemen he found hard to accept: the Beasts of Revelation: the False Prophet and Antichrist, who would set the stage for the Great Tribulation of the End Times.
In spite of the blessing of prophecy bestowed upon him by the Lord, his first experience as a doomsday forecaster had been strange and unsettling. He felt like one of those televangelists, he ridiculed, consumed with apocalyptical imagery and doomsday drivel—the antithesis of a street evangelist in almost every way. The Lord had filled him with wondrous—all be it Protestant—bursts of revelation, but he had felt foolish after the reception he received today.
After a long day of preaching, followed by the unscheduled period of warning listeners about the End Times, hunger, fatigue, and mental exhaustion overtook Moses Rawlins. All that mattered to him, after such a long day, was arriving on time at the Union Mission for the evening meal.
As he sat at the table with other homeless men, he wolfed down a plate of meat loaf, mashed potatoes and buttered rolls, washing it down with three glasses of iced tea. Quietly, without conversation at first, he finished his meal with great relish, topping it off with a wedge of apple pie. Surfeited, he settled back in his chair, chewing on his thoughts.
It appeared to Moses as though God had big plans for him. He had once been a successful engineer, with a wife, daughter and a spacious house. He had been a respectable member of the community, a member of the PTA, and regularly brought his family to Saint Boniface’s Roman Catholic Church. Yet not until he hit the skids, humbled by life’s misfortunes, had he truly known the Lord. Why had Jesus waited until he was on skid row? At this stage in his spiritual growth, after years of preaching on the street, he had been given a task: he was to become a herald or forecaster of the End Times…. How strange and mysterious of the Lord that He had waited so long.
As he finished the last of his pie, he conversed politely with the homeless folk at his table. It was difficult to make small talk while dealing with revelations from the Lord. When he was a member of the middle class, he would have had many clever things to say that would prevent him from wasting time. Here, during dinner time at the mission, the typical “how’re you doing?” ice breaker resulted in long winded, rambling reports of health, living conditions or problems with other vagrants or brushes with the law. Moses found it best to rely on the tried and true method of commenting on food, the weather or local news. Perhaps, if they wished, he might discuss a Biblical topic with them, if it did not offend other diners, but nothing controversial, such as politics or their immortal soul.
This evening, thought Moses wearily, small talk simply won’t do. The voices around him were scarcely heard as he sat there experiencing another revelation from God. Several of them, whom he knew personally as friends, recognized him as Preacher Moe or the Shepherd of Skid Row. Among this group, Smokin’ Al Breen, Little Tom, and Skunk Larson, Moe’s favorites, would always be in his cheering section, as would Judd, a slightly addled old drifter who maintained an almost permanent smile on his shriveled face. Though most of the others knew him as a friendly nuisance, Charles Blintz, whom Moses once tried to convert, sat glowering at him from across the room. After serving time for beating up a vagrant in Gladys Park, Charlie, a yellow-haired, buck-toothed young man with pale blue eyes, had recently been released from jail, along with the three members of his gang who helped him beat poor Ignacio Rosales half to death. Ignacio, who had been born again at one of Moe’s street revivals, sat next to Moses at his table, across from Al, Skunk, Tom, and Judd.
Fortunately tonight, Charlie and his gang were watched carefully by the security officers standing guard in the room. One tall, stringy haired homeless woman, Rhoda Simms, whom everyone knew as the Skid Row Witch, made disparaging remarks about him at the beginning of the meal, but was shushed into silence by Moses’ friends when he began to speak. In a moderate tone, confident that he would not be interrupted, Moses stood up and addressed those immediately around him, especially his friends Ignacio, Al, Skunk, Tom, and Judd. After seeing Moses rise to his feet, other diners, curious about the commotion, moved in closer to the speaker as he stood looking around the room. Among his audience, portly Buff Peyton, ex-gang member Heck Reyes, and Ephalia “Effie” Powers, so often among his hecklers, knew better than irritate the sponsors of their meal. As many others, they sat in various stages of torpor or boredom in their seats. While others such as Ursula Painter, Stork Channing, and Alden Taylor craned their necks to hear, a few diners had fallen asleep. Faint snoring could be heard in various quarters of the room. His words this time were difficult to understand, but there was, many listeners marveled, something different about the Shepherd’s expression tonight. Moses was smiling, as if he knew something earth shaking was about to happen but was not ready to tell.
Kaz Yorba, the dwarf, suggested jokingly to Wyatt Brewster, a onetime seminary student, that the preacher might be on drugs. Enigmatically, the young man shook his head and held his finger up to his lips. In the faintest of whispers he told Kaz “The preacher is not mad, and he’s not on drugs. Moses Rawlins is one of those rare street crazies truly touched by God!”
Kaz laughed foolishly to himself. The diners in the room showed extraordinary patience as Moses struck a statuesque pose. The security personnel, ready to move in quickly, watched Moses and his silent congregation with jaundiced eyes. It was, Moses would later realize, the defining moment in his evangelical career. No longer would he simply be known as Preacher Moe or the Shepherd of Skid Row. . . He was Moses, a prophet, God’s voice on the street.
“Truly I say unto you,” he raised his arms dramatically, a collective gasp registering in the room, “a man—one of your own—shall do the devil’s work. When you hear strange and wondrous tidings, they are not miracles but diabolical things. When you see Christ walking passed you on the street, it’s not Him at all but his diabolical counterpart—the emissary of the beast. Humbly did the Master pick his flock? In imitation of Jesus will this counterfeit select folk on skid row.”
Moses shuddered at what he just said, and yet, without losing a beat and before the security forces shushed him into silence, he outlined, as quickly as possible, a series of events that would happen on skid row. One day he would outline the events in detail for his protégés, the Two Witnesses during the End Time, but for now he struggled with his revelation. His message, in fact, seemed outrageous to many listeners. “What’s crazy ol’ Moe talking about now?” They murmured amongst themselves. For several listeners, including Wyatt Brewster and his friends, however, Moses had finally struck a chord. None of them had ever heard the Shepherd talk this way:
“… In those days before the official countdown begins, the counterfeit Christ will be looked upon as a lunatic, until he gathers his twelve apostles—a collection of ex-drug addicts, prostitutes and down-and-out misfits who will become his missionaries in the End Times…”
Leaving his audience with an enticing introduction of things to come, which he planned to follow up with “bulletins,” as the spirit moved him, Moses gave them all a parting blessing, receiving a modest smattering of applause. His friends rose up unanimously to clap, while young Wyatt sat staring into space. To avoid the gruff handling of security guards demanding he leave the premises, Moses mumbled a blessing to them, exiting the building quickly after the prayer. Wrapped in God’s graces, he ignored the hoots from Charlie and his friends, looking forward, at that point, to a well-earned night’s sleep.
This time he returned to the abandoned newsstand in which, during good weather, he bedded down for the night. After only a few hours of fitful slumber, however, another revelation appeared murkily as a dream, and the urge to prophesy returned to him. Moses didn’t know that Adam Leeds had been indwelled by Satan tonight, and yet, during the dreamscape of apocalyptic symbols parading in his mind, it was as if God, himself, shouted into his slumbering mind “Wake up—he’s afoot. Tell the world now that he’s here!”
Driven by what he was certain was the Lord’s command, Moses felt pumped up and ready to give one more sermon before turning in permanently for the night. But to whom, he asked himself, looking up and down the street. It was, he noted on his wristwatch, approaching midnight. His friends, Smokin’ Al, Skunk, Little Tom, Ignacio, and Ol’ Judd, had decided to sleep at the mission. The homeless families were all bedded down for the night. The malingerers on the sidewalks, such as Charlie Blintz, were in no mood to be preached at this time. But the heartland bums who lived in the alleys of skid row, which included his friends, might still be awake at this hour.
“What better time to give bums the message than when they’re drifting off to sleep?” He asked himself cheerily. “They’ll make a splendid audience!” He tried reassuring himself, as he cradled the Bible affectionately in his hands. “Lord,” he called out, looking up at night sky, “this is madness. Strengthen my soul with your Holy Spirit, comforting presence, and your divine will. Guide my steps, put wisdom in my mouth, and protect me from the evil one this hour!”
In spite of his fine words, Moses didn’t feel confident after his reception on the street. The encouragement given by his friends couldn’t wipe away the memory of hecklers or the frightened looks he received earlier on skid row. He was, he reminded himself, a much better preacher than a prophet. He was still not completely certain he was not suffering delusions after all those years of drinking cheap wine. He knew most of the scriptures by heart. Many of the images flashing in his mind were not from the Bible. Should he present them to the street people, if he barely understood them, himself? What if there was a troublemaker in their midst like Charlie Blintz or one of his friends? Would the Lord protect him so he could deliver His message? Could he, as the Old Testament prophets, rely upon God to protect him from his enemies if they threatened him with bodily harm? Moses remembered from his Bible studies that many of the prophets had been killed while serving the Lord. Was Christ, himself, not crucified for bringing sinful men the truth?
Questions and more questions plagued his mind. Moses steps faltered with his failing resolve. He remembered the look on Charlie Blintz’s splotchy face; it seemed to typify the dark, evil side of skid row. He had seen that same hateful expression many times when preaching the word. Moses had, in fact, identified three major looks of disapproval among his listeners: resentment, annoyance, and, in Charlie’s case, malevolence, which bred malicious glee. Many of the homeless folk were merely irritated by his disruptions. It was, however, from their numbers that he had made converts on skid row and even a few friends. The drug addicts, prostitutes, and malingerers, such as Charlie Blintz, he encountered, who resented his intrusions, were more difficult to reach. They were, unless they repented, lost sheep for the shepherd of skid row.
Except for Charles Blintz or Rhoda Simms, who needed exorcism more than conversion, Moses was a relentless evangelist. Perhaps there was a demon leering from Charlie’s pale blue eyes. At times Rhoda Simms, a drug addict and ex-prostitute, appeared to be clinically insane. Most of the others, however, when they heard him preaching, left him alone. Sometimes they would actually listen, and a few had even been saved. But Charlie and his gang hurled insults at him when the mood suited them. Moses wondered what Charlie would do to him if he ran into him in the dark. So far, in his evening visits, he had not been waylaid, but he had always limited his services to counseling and prayer. With such a loud voice, he wouldn’t dare preach to homeless folk at this hour. The Lord protected him as long as he followed a few guidelines. Moses had never attempted even a visitation this late at night.
As he approached his destination, which was as yet unclear, he uttered verses from the Twenty-third Psalm, the same prayer Adam Leeds had read from the Bible many times, but Moses had memorized the Palms perfectly, as he had most of the Good Book:
“Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…”
Tonight, as he walked into the valley of the shadow of death, it occurred to him that his vanity, not the Lord, might be leading him now. Was he really up to a one-man revival with these folks? Perhaps on this occasion he was overdoing it. Should he not introduce this new subject to them on another, more auspicious time and place?….Who was he to tempt the Lord?
Questions followed questions. This time, as his flashlight probed the darkness, the Lord answered him without symbols or words. A sudden wind gushed out of nowhere that moment, blowing warmly into his face. Turning off his flashlight, Moses paused beneath a street lamp, his red hair and beard stirring in the breeze.
He was still exhausted after a day of preaching on the street. Today he had preached longer and with greater vigor than ever before, but that last hour in the wholesale district had been the most difficult in his preaching career. With the exception of the excellent meal at the mission this evening, he had eaten poorly this week. When he bedded down in the newsstand, he had felt weak, footsore, and racked with arthritic pain. Yet, at this moment, after only a short period of sleep, he felt revitalized, ready to give the Lord another hour or two of service preaching about a subject that would affect the whole world.
Now, as He had countless times before, the Lord stiffened Moses’ resolve. Quietly, in a sudden draft, He had reminded him of his mission to spread the word. Moses’ doubts, if not his fears, had faded with the Lord’s breath. Remembering that dreadful woman who inspired him to make the sign of the cross, the preacher mumbled John the Revelator’s exhortation from the Book of Revelations but this time under his breath: “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy…”
Ever since the woman emerged from the shadows, he had been convinced he had been given a sign. The young man, who was walking in that neighborhood, had also seemed significant, though he couldn’t imagine why. The man had no business in that neck of the woods. The woman would have seemed out of place anywhere on earth. She was a monstrous parody of a streetwalker, the most frightful specter he had ever seen on skid row. And yet, fear and concern aside, these specters—man and beast—had stirred him spiritually. Moses didn’t fully comprehend yet what had just taken place in the world. The two incongruous people seen on the boundary of skid row seemed unrelated to the flashes of prophecy in his head as did the flashes, themselves, which had no counterpart in the Bible he knew. The Lord, in His own good time, he knew, would explain the mystery to him, but why had been shaken him awake this hour? Was there someone he was supposed to meet or something special he was supposed to do?…. Moses sensed, with bated breath, that he would soon know.
At such a time, the preacher could of think of only one thing to do: preach. Seeing a handful of vagrants emerge from a side street, he found himself screaming in a loud voice “Repent! I have seen the dragon. The Day of the Lord draws near, when the dragon shall anoint the beast!”
“What sort of nonsense is this?” He had asked himself after the words poured out of his mouth.
He didn’t remember reading those words in the Bible. Once again, it appeared as though he was breaking new ground. This was brand new scripture. It was the same cognitive experience he had during dinner at the mission, but this moment he had mentioned the dragon and the beast, which meant, respectively, Satan and the Antichrist or False Prophet. This is serious business! He thought with a shudder. He had broken his long-standing rule about loud preaching late at night. The three men and two women looked at him, as he shouted at them, as if he had lost his wits but continued on their way, the same reaction he received during his experiment in town. Many pedestrians, including his normal street audience, he recalled, had thought he was a lunatic, and yet, for that brief period, he had been louder and more passionate than ever before. He knew as soon as he asked himself the question “what sort of nonsense it this?” exactly what kind of nonsense it was…. It was divine nonsense, the Lord’s special brand of double-talk—the same sort of ambiguity that John the Revelator spouted throughout the Book of Revelation, and he still barely understood. Now, it was coming to him too, as dream imagery and flashes in his mind. Moses, in spite of his reception today, was more convinced than ever of his new mission on earth. It would, if nothing else, he decided, change and re-invigorate his evangelical pitch. He was not merely sent to save their souls, he was sent to warn them of the End Times, a subject that frightened even him.
But had he not jumped ahead of himself this evening in warning his listeners of the Antichrist and False Prophet? What about the reasons for those dreadful times: the lack of faith and the degenerate morals, which foreshadowed the dark days ahead? Moses knew it would be difficult to break with his old hell-fire and damnation format. It was his trademark on skid row.
This time, though filled with dread, Moses felt strengthened. Something excited him about the setting; he could feel it in the air. It was not merely the breeze drying the cold sweat on his brow; it was a feeling, implanted by the Lord, that he was going to meet someone of great importance on the street. Earlier this evening, as the sun set over the buildings, one last flash of brilliance had greeted his eyes. He was certain that this event, as the breeze and inkling, had been a sign, too. So far, in subtle language, the Lord had spoken through the sun, the wind, and an inexplicable feeling in the air.
Without a moonlit sky, night had fallen heavily on skid row, deepening quickly into progressive shades of gray, purple and black. God’s inner light was now greater than the flashlight clutched in his hand. Glints of the future flashed on and off in his mind. After preaching in town, at the park, at the mission and to the vagrants just now, he was, by the Lord’s command, ready to sermonize to the worst dregs on skid row.
As lamplight cast his moving shadow onto the sidewalk, a special warmth seemed to surround his soul, fortifying him against the unknown. Against the darkness, which had so quickly gobbled up the street, an inner peace and abiding faith swelled inside him. Unbeknownst to Moses, a spiritual ‘photo negative’ of himself now roamed skid row. It was now midnight, the worst time on skid row—no place for shoppers, tourists, or anyone else, including himself, on foot. For Moses Rawlins, however, it was a special time: a period in which he would test his spiritual strength. With Bible in hand, he had always been ready for his twenty-four hour service to God, but no more than his detour tonight.
“All right Lord,” he whispered discreetly up to the sky, “you’ve convinced me. You’ve made me into a herald and forerunner. Keep my spirit humble but my mind alert. Let my tongue not stumble when I struggle with your words.”
Moses now headed directly into the heartland of skid row. In every corner and pocket he could hear them: murmurs, coughs, curses, and muted conversation—the misbegotten and castaway, the so-called dregs of society, if not settling finally for the day, already lurking singly or in small groups in alleys or street nooks. Most of this group, after panhandling uptown, had already returned and withdrawn bottle-in-hand into their darkened habitats to bed down for the night. His own friends, Smokin’ Al, Skunk, Little Tom, Ignacio, and Ol’ Judd were, he thanked God, sleeping safely at the mission tonight. For the remainder of heartland bums, as Moses called them, it was time to settle down and, in many cases, enjoy their hard won booze. Several groups, he passed along the way, lingered on the sidewalks, by the curbs, or hovered as moths around street lamps as if drawn by their light. Many of them were drug addicts and a few aging prostitutes no longer able to sell their wares. Collectively, whenever possible, this—the most downtrodden of the street people—huddled for a smoke, a swig of wine, or just to chat a spell. Those retreating into alleys, whom he called the Alley Rats, were the sorriest of the lot. This group included but was not limited to addicts, burnt out winos, and a few mentally disturbed Vietnam and Middle East veterans, who were among the most pitiful men on skid row.
In a muted tone this time, Moses uttered, “I’m the voice crying in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord!”
Looking around self-consciously, he felt suddenly vulnerable on the street. It was the worst place to be at this hour, even for a prophet chosen by the Lord. Yet the Lord, Himself, had awakened him, and the Spirit had moved him to the worst part of skid row. His congregation was the same and his territory remained, for the time being, downtown LA and skid row, but the message was different now. Ultimately, he sensed, his territory would be the entire world.
Today, during normal working hours, he had preached to pedestrians and anyone else who happened to look his way. Earlier, in the late morning, he had sermonized to the homeless, especially the growing number of families huddled in the park, by the river, or camped in vacant lots. To them, the victims of social and economic woes, he conducted quiet sermons or counseling wherever they happened to be. As they bedded down for the night, he revisited them only long enough to gather their prayer requests before returning to the boundary of skid row. This afternoon something had been added to his routine. All of his regular stops, he suspected, would have to fit into the regimen set by the Lord for his new mission to herald the End Times on skid row. Clearly, God was testing him. It was the first time he would enter an alley by himself, in the darkness, and this late at night.
“It’s written,” he quoted, looking longingly up at the sky. “ ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord.’ Well, Lord, if this be your will, give me a sign…. Just one more…. I’m almost there. The hole of the Alley Rats is straight ahead.”
Miraculously it seemed Moses, drops of rain fell on his cheek. He thought he heard a faint rumble of thunder from the cloudless, starlit sky. Finally, Moses turned into an unlit stretch of alley, praying feverishly under his breath. His only illumination, now that he was out of range of the street lamps, was his flashlight, which he used sparingly, and the glow of cigarettes down the line. As airport runway lights guiding his approach, he used these smoldering beacons to prevent himself from tripping over legs and knees in the dark. With his Bible in hand, he sought out familiar faces or just derelicts who were still awake. At a few points, while probing the darkness with his flashlight, he heard threatening grumbles and quickly turned it off. Most of the derelicts stared like zombies straight ahead, if not already slouched over in sleep. Heads would continue to drop, bodies would crumple, until one by one they fell asleep.
Thirty feet or more into the corridor, at what seemed to be a likely spot, Moses stopped, turned off his light, and stood there peering into the dark.
“Listen,” he suddenly cried, “don’t go to sleep! It’s me again: Moe Rawlins. Many of you have heard me on the street. I’ve got something to tell you. So hold on a minute; your lives may depend on it. Just open your eyes and listen to my voice. The last thing I want you to hear before you fall asleep is this: it’s not too late! That’s right my friends, Jesus wants you just like you are. Why, I don’t know. I’ve had several talks with Him about you. I keep telling him that you’re not listening. I’d love to stay with my homeless families where at least they’re sober. I’d also like to stay in the mission with my friends where its warm and I can get a good night’s sleep. But He wants me to spend my evenings here in the hollow—a dark, cold, living hell, where I can get beaten up, maybe killed.”
“I use to be like you guys,” his voice softened. “Before I hit the skids, I had a family, a big house, and a good job. Then I lost them all one by one. First my wife died, and then my daughter ran off to Lord knows where. And suddenly I was hitting the bottle. It was so easy to stay drunk after work, but then I began drinking during lunch and sometimes even during working hours, until finally, after showing up drunk at work once too often, I was fired from my job. I never planned my end, but that’s what it was: a death wish. I was so unhappy I wanted to drink myself to death. But I’m not asking you to give up the booze now, this very moment. I’m only asking that you listen. This is the easy part. The Lord will help you through the hard part later. Right now, just say to yourself ‘Jesus, I’m listening. I’m a sinner, but my eyes aren’t shut and my heart’s open. So give me a chance like you did for ol’ Moe. I don’t want to burn in Satan’s fires. I don’t want to die of sclerosis of the liver, kidney failure or brain rot. I want to live a happy life and someday be where you are Lord: paradise.’”
“I’m praying Lord!” He shouted at the top of his lungs. “I’m repenting before it’s too late, before I get sick, die, and wake up in hell. Hear my prayer Lord. Hallelujah! I’m waiting, watching, my eyes uplifted, my spirits afire. I hear you at the gates of my heart, the window of my soul, knowing you’re there but heeding you not, feeling your love but blinded by sin. Pull me up Lord. Stand me on my feet. I want to walk out of here whole, believing, trusting, and the man you want me to be!”
After this message of salvation, would come the hard part, which he dreaded the most: the warning given to him by God of the End Times—the Last Days. At this point, after his lofty sermon, he walked silently a ways into dark corridor, praying for guidance under his breath. Out of politeness he tried, as always, to keep his beam low to avoid their eyes. Derelicts, who had been in the darkness too long, were sensitive to light. He had learned to be patient with such folks, not merely out of compassion but out of fear of the unknown. Right now, of course, he was in the most unknowable portion of skid row: an alley. Keeping his flashlight beam trained on the ground, he gripped its handle as a weapon and stood with his back to a brick wall.
“I have a message for you tonight,” he grappled with the knowledge in his mind, “not like the others…. I know it’s for the entire world, and yet I begin here in this humble place. You’re among the first to know. I’ve seen the dragon. She looked out at me passed a poor wretch, whose soul was in torment, and I knew it was her—a sign and an omen the Lord allowed me to see. Why the devil would walk these streets when there is much more promising ground in Hollywood, Wall Street or any major city in the USA, I don’t know. But I know the devil’s right here, having selected our habitats to begin her mischief on Planet Earth!”
After a pause, in which he realized that many of the men in the alley were mumbling to themselves and not listening at all, he said with little confidence “I’m here to tell you about a subject in Scriptures I still struggle with myself: warnings of things to come—the End Times…”
“So tell them, preacher,” a gravelly voice, close by in the shadows called out as he faltered, “they, who’ve seen the dragon down here every night!”
That moment warm fingers reached up to touch his hand. His throat constricted when he considered the old man’s words. “I hear you Lord,” he found his voice. A rush of cognition caused him to gasp, and he reach out to steady himself by touching the slimy wall.
“Yes, God, I’m listening,” he looked around wild eyed, a glint of lamplight highlighting his face.
“The Book,” the old man cued him, “… the unwritten Book.”
“… I thought the answers were all in my Bible,” Moses picked up the cue. “Flashes in my mind—nay revelation—tell me there is more, much more,… another book other than the books of John, the Revelator, and Daniel, to be written by God’s author, whom the Lord will find as a blank sheet and I, Moses Rawlins, will one day teach. I am but a voice crying in the wilderness and you, children, are the Lord’s sounding board. Hear now the words of the Lord!”
“Who is the dragon? Who can make war against him?” Another voice, deep and resonant, rang out, in the darkness.
“Who said it will be a man?” Asked Moses, futilely searching the shadows for the owner of the second voice.
This time he wondered if he was being mocked. Was it the devil he heard now? What madness has brought me into a bum’s alley, he asked himself, backing away slowly to the street.
“Come into the light,” the gravelly voice called from the shadows. With his flashlight aimed at the ground, Moses quickly retraced his steps out of the corridor. Pulling out his tattered Bible, which he could not possibly have read in the almost total darkness, he fingered it Ouija board fashion as if it might inspire his thoughts, until he could read it at the mouth of the alley. A passage appearing at once to his tired eyes cued him now:
And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her I wondered with great admiration…. And the woman which thou sawest is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
He turned to the dark corridor now and the words again poured out of his mouth as if he had memorized them by heart.
“The Lord speaks through me. Thus spaketh the Lord: ‘Lo, the devil is now a woman, who has chosen as her spokesman, a man of the new age, who will make you believe that the devil doesn’t exist. In the universal faith he preaches, their god—the devil—shall be called the Deity. In truth it will have no gender or form, and its message will be in conflict with what is implied in Scripture. There will be no doublespeak from His prophet; God will speak plainly this time…. In the dark days which shall come, the False Prophet will gather his twelve from among his children as apostles of darkness for the new age, who will be the first to wear the mark…. Remember my words, so you will know that moment, when the first beast tempts you with his words. Make no mistake, children, the dragon speaks through her prophet. The beast will make you think that Christ has come again, but in the False Prophet, there indwells the devil, who controls and directs the beast!’ ”
At that very moment, a familiar figure plodded dejectedly up the street. When Moses recognized the man in the clerical collar, he knew immediately who he was supposed to meet. He did not even know his name, yet he knew who he would one day be. Though their eyes met—gray upon gray, there were no words passed between the two ministers. Adam Leeds, broken in spirit and mentally lost, trudged on, immediate destination unknown, but his purpose had been written in the Book of Life since the beginning of time. What could Moses say to someone who would one day play such a role? Words of rebuke seemed in order and yet he felt pity for this lost soul.
Glancing at the Alley Rats, Moses looked back with dread at this vision. “It begins!” He declared to his indifferent audience. Elaborating upon the prelude he used for his revelation, he cried out as he had that first moment when the Spirit moved him: “Thus saith the Lord: The hour of the beast has come. The long road to Armageddon has begun. I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his head the name of blasphemy. And they worshipped the dragon who gave power to the beast and worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’”